Health and Wellness

Election Day anxiety? These 5 activities can help reduce stress while watching returns on Nov. 3

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US President Donald Trump (L) and Democratic Presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden during the final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, on October 22, 2020.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI | AFP | Getty Images

Sixty-eight percent of American adults say that the 2020 U.S. presidential election is a significant source of stress in their life, according to a recent survey from the American Psychological Association (APA) and Harris Poll. And that may be due in large part to the uncertainty surrounding the outcome.

Humans do not like uncertainty, and yet with the Covid-19 pandemic and election results that will likely take time process (due to the millions of people have opted to vote by mail), there is more than ever.

So how do you quell anxiety and avoid rumination during the prolonged waiting period?

Making plans or scheduling activities (besides voting) can help you pass the time and potentially mitigate your election day worries and fears, Kate Sweeny, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, told the New York Times in a story published Monday.

Research has shown that distraction can reduce worry, because it shifts your focus from your negative, pervasive thoughts onto something else. But some distraction tools are more effective than others, according to research from Sweeny.

Here are some specific science-backed strategies that can help you get you through Election Day and whatever follows.

Seek out 'flow'

A 2018 study found that activities that produce "flow," which is the state of being so absorbed in an activity that you lose track of time and thought, can improve your wellbeing and make time pass faster when in a waiting period. Common flow-inducing activities include: making music, rock climbing, dancing, sailing, playing chess, swimming and bicycling.

Call your friends and family

Having a strong social support network can be majorly beneficial to your mental and physical health. Studies have shown that social support can boost your immune function, increase your longevity, plus help you adjust to life events better. While gathering in-person is not safe due to the pandemic, you could set up a video conference with far-flung family members and friends, or make a plan to play a collaborative game over Zoom.

Cook a meal

At the start of the pandemic, many people turned to baking as a way to relieve stress. Indeed, research has shown that creative "maker" activities like cooking or baking can be calming because they provide a sense of control and tangible end product. The act of kneading bread or chopping vegetables can also serve as a mindfulness activity, because it focuses you on the present moment. Other studies have shown that mindfulness makes it easier to wait for "personally significant news."    

Clean and organize

Like baking and cooking, cleaning and organizing can help you regain control over your environment and feel less nervous. Some cleaning tasks that require repetitive motions, such as vaccuming or washing dishes, can serve as a mindfulness exercise. As we spend more time indoors during the pandemic, it's even more important to have a pleasant, uncluttered space: Research has shown that people who view their homes as a restorative space (rather than a stressful environment) have lower cortisol levels.

Take news breaks

When faced with uncertainty, it's only natural to want to seek out as much information as possible to gain answers. But in the case of the election, the APA says that one of the easiest ways to reduce stress is to limit your news intake. To set boundaries, you can designate 30 minutes to read social media or the news and set a timer so you don't go overboard. Or, you can choose to watch your go-to news program on-demand at a time when you're feeling mentally prepared.  

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