June 2, 2023

Dawson County Journal

Dawson County, Nebraska

Are election ads impacting your mental health?

DENVER (KDVR) — There is just one day left before the midterm election, and a psychologist is looking into how hateful rhetoric around elections can have a negative impact on your mental health.

If it feels like people are angrier and maybe even going at each other’s throats more in the last month or so, a University of Denver psychologist said you’re not wrong.

“Does it feel like there’s more crime, and does this feel like it’s part of every conversation we’re having? The answer to that question is yes. Remembering, of course, that crime is a philosophical sledgehammer that savvy politicians use to make points, build an argument and ultimately win elections. So, we’re really on the receiving end of messaging about crime right now,” said Dr. Kim Gorgens.

Political ads are everywhere. They’re on tv and they’re online. They’re even being texted to your phone, left in your mailbox and some politicians might even be knocking at your door.

An American Psychological Association study in October found that 52% of people nationwide said that election stress was adding significantly to their day-to-day stress.

Here’s what DU Forensic Psychologist Professor Grogens said:

“Interestingly of that 52%, they were behaving differently and they described themselves as behaving out of character, so barking at their kids, yelling at co-workers, and having a shorter fuse with people in grocery lines. So, there really is a tangible difference in the atmosphere right now in the run-up time to an election.”

So why the uptick? Gorgens said this level of angst is not typical for a midterm election. She believes this stress is now adding to the ambient level of anxiety and depression left behind by the pandemic and worries about inflation and other concerns.

“This adds to a simmer. Our anxiety is at a near-boiling point. So, it takes very little to put us over the top and to create really clinically significant distress,” Gorgens said.

So if you feel upset, Grogens said a way to diffuse it is by meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing, and box breathing. She also recommends you limit exposure to political ads but that can be a catch-22 as well.

“The rub with limiting your exposure is we want people to feel informed. We want people to be able to debunk the myths that they hold. We want people to make savvy decisions when they go to the polls or they’re completing their mail-in ballots. We want people to vote and to feel like their stakeholders in an election. Importantly, though, there is a tipping point at which you start to feel viscerally impacted by those ads and they make you feel sick,” said Gorgens. “Recognizing in yourself that kind of somatic change is a really important cue to turning it off and walking away for a little bit and don’t have those conversations with your family members, your co-workers. Cool off for a bit.”

Gorgens said too much stress can cause real health impacts down the road, not only things like ulcers and heart disease but problematic behaviors like drinking and substance abuse. That is what she calls self-destructive coping mechanisms that can cause wear and tear on our bodies as well.

Source: Rocky Mountain News