How To Deal With 'Election Anxiety'
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
There is no doubt that this election season has caused bad feelings for many people across the country. A lot of people are talking about election anxiety, that pit in your stomach that you might feel when you, say, check the polls or projections. It turns out there is some science to back that up.
More than half of Americans say this year's campaign is a somewhat or very significant source of stress in their lives that according to a study by the American Psychological Association. And those feelings cut across party lines. Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, and he says that no matter who wins, there will be major wounds to heal. He's with us now from Palo Alto, Calif. Professor Humphreys, thank you so much for speaking with us.
KEITH HUMPHREYS: Very glad to be here.
MARTIN: So first, can we establish that this election anxiety is a real thing?
HUMPHREYS: Yeah. This has been much more painful for people, I think, than the typical American election because so much of it has become about not so much policy differences, but about whether certain groups in the country are good or bad and whether they have a right to be around or not. So the fear that people have is that, you know, voting is done in private, but then we all know what the collective results are and we find out what our citizens think. And if you're a rural person, it's, you know, frightening to think maybe people do think I'm deplorable or if you're a Mexican-American maybe people do really think that I'm a rapist or a drug dealer. And that's a really frightening prospect.
MARTIN: So you seem to be saying that this election isn't being fought out really along policy lines as it is along lines of identity that it's almost as if these candidates are kind of proxy for who we think we are as opposed to what we want them to do and that that becomes a question of yourself being rejected as opposed to your ideas being rejected.
HUMPHREYS: That is exactly right. If you look at what people say, you know, at the coffee shop or around the dinner table or what most of the journalism has focused on, it really hasn't been the nitty gritty of shall we expand this program or cut that program or modify this and that? It's been about who is an American? Who gets to be an American? Do we value all Americans? Are Muslims a threat to us? Are Mexican-Americans a threat to us? Is everybody who lives in places like West Virginia where I'm from a racist? So that kind of stuff, really deeply personal stuff tied to identity has made this much more bitter and is also going to make losing much more painful.
MARTIN: Do you have recommendations for how we as citizens can be helpful to each other to get through this?
HUMPHREYS: Yeah. The most important recommendation I have is for the winners which is to be gracious in victory. We all have to live with each other a lot longer than the next four years. So it's much better to be kind and compassionate to those who lose. That could have been you. The other thing I'd recommend to people if you do lose is not to get on social media because people will not be gracious on social media. I'm sure that no matter what happens, Twitter is going to be about the nastiest place on Earth the day after the election.
MARTIN: What about people just in general over the next couple of days - we had a couple days ago - who just say I am really stressed out? Do you have any advice?
HUMPHREYS: This is a case where there's a conflict between what the democracy needs and what our individual mental health needs. So probably the best thing to do if you're stressed out is to shut off all the TV, the social media and just try to tune it all out. But that's not good for democracy because we have to stay engaged. We have to go out and vote. We have to talk to each other. We have to participate and not just pull back because it's really difficult. And I'd say if you're feeling paralyzed, act. If you're feeling anxious, do something constructive around the election for whatever cause you believe in, and you will feel better. And democracy will be better off for your engagement. And you can go on a long vacation the day after.
MARTIN: OK (laughter). Professor Humphreys, thanks so much for speaking with us.
HUMPHREYS: Thank you. Take care.
MARTIN: That's Keith Humphreys He's a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.