RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Does the upcoming election have you feeling stressed — even with five months still to go?
You’re not alone.
And researchers from North Carolina State University say that’s perfectly normal — and those stress levels can be highest for those who are most politically active, no matter where they are on the red-blue spectrum.
One study finds the simple anticipation of future election-related stress can effect your emotional well-being long before any ballots are cast.
A second study showed one of the best ways to protect against those sources of stress is education.
“We know people can feel stress in anticipation of an event, and we know elections can be stressful for people,” said Shevaun Neupert, senior author of both studies and a professor of psychology at N.C. State.
“We wanted to learn more about how much stress people feel leading up to an election, and what factors contribute to that stress,” he added. “Ultimately, we wanted to get insights that can be used to help people manage these stresses.”
Both studies drew on data collected from 140 adults across the country who were surveyed daily for 30 days in the fall of 2018, the weeks immediately before and after the last midterm election.
Those people were asked about their political activities, how much stress they anticipated due to the election, how often they came across triggers of that stress and how they would describe any negative emotions they were feeling.
The first study looked how anticipating stress relates to those negative emotions.
“We found that when people anticipate election stress, they also experience greater negative affect — regardless of whether they experienced any election stressors that day,” said Xianghe Zhu, the first author of the first study and a postdoctoral researcher at Florida State University who previously worked on the research as a N.C. State graduate student.
“In other words, if someone was expecting to experience election stress on a Monday, they were more likely to feel upset, nervous, etc., on Sunday – even if they hadn’t experienced any election stressors on Sunday,” Zhu said.
The second study looked at the stress of anticipating an election and a person’s political activity. The researchers found people were more likely to feel election-related stress the more politically active they are — but that it was lessened by both age and education level.
“In other words, the more educated people were, the fewer stressors they reported encountering when they increased their political participation,” Zhu said. “This was especially pronounced for younger adults – particularly people in their 20s.”
That study also found that when people expected to feel more election stress, they reported coming across with more sources of election stress that day.
“For example, if someone said on Wednesday that they anticipated experiencing more election-related stress on Thursday, they were significantly more likely to report a higher number of election stressors on Thursday,” said N.C. State undergraduate Alexandra Early, a first author of the study. “And that held true for study participants of all ages and levels of education.”
The researchers say it’s important for you to recognize the potential for election-related stress and be mindful of your mental health before you begin to feel stressed.
“We think it is important for people to engage in the political process,” Neupert says. “However, it’s also important for people to take steps to protect their mental health and well-being. This study tells us that if you think you’re going to be feeling a lot of stress tomorrow related to an election, you’re probably right.”