Angry. Fearful. Anxious. Confused. Frustrated.
If there’s one word that’s not being used to describe voter sentiment this election cycle, it’s apathetic.
The Sept. 26 debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump drew 84 million TV viewers, a record viewership for a presidential debate, according to Nielsen figures. And that doesn’t count the folks who watched online.
Americans have always been passionate about their candidates, and everybody knows politics is a full-contact sport.
But 2016 is something else. Much of the anxiety comes from the fiery rhetoric of Republican nominee Donald Trump. But the GOP can’t take all the blame. There’s an equal amount of nail biting over the Democratic slate, especially the nagging distrust of Hilary Clinton.
Even mental-health professionals are feeling some agita. “I myself am a little topsy-turvy about it,” says Angela D’Antonio, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Wesley College in Dover. “I think I need to ask somebody what to do instead of being the person telling others what to do.”
If emotions are running wild this election year, it’s because this is a wildly atypical election. “As a political scientist, I would have predicted that as we got closer to the election, the parties would have come to the middle—and that really hasn’t happened here,” says Samuel Hoff, Ph.D., professor of political science at Delaware State University in Dover.
Hoff compares 2016 to the 1964 dustup between Republican Barry Goldwater and Democrat Lyndon Johnson, the contest that brought ideology into American politics as well as the Democratic slogan: “In your guts, you know he’s nuts.”
And when conservative and liberal extremes dominate, conflict is sure to follow. “You have some people who are afraid of change, and then there are people who are demanding change—and those two groups are colliding,” D’Antonio says.
So, what can you do to calm your nerves before you pull that lever? Hoff and D’Antonio have some ideas.
- Tune out … at least for a while. D’Antonio recommends taking a break from the round-the-clock news cycle. “I give an assignment in my classes: Turn it off and step back. Don’t get sucked into the social media [storm] or whatever,” says D’Antonio.
- Be proactive, not powerless. While it’s only natural to fret over complex situations with uncertain outcomes, unproductive worry can lead to paralysis. Channeling worry into productive action can generate a sense of control. Volunteer, donate or attend an event. “It can also be something as simple as putting up a lawn sign,” says Hoff.
- Reach across the divide to try to understand other viewpoints. “If you watch Fox News, tune into MSNBC for once—or vice versa,” says Hoff.
- Take care of yourself. Get enough sleep, eat right and exercise. “You know what works for you,” says D’Antonio. “Do some distracting activity—be it mind or body—that helps you deal with stress.”
- Put things in perspective. This too shall pass. The U.S. has a history of nasty matchups, some of the nastiest of which occurred during the 19th century. And yet the republic has survived. “This one wouldn’t make the Top Five,” says Hoff. “It might make the Top 10, but not the Top Five.”