November 3rd, 2008
02:22 PM ET

Managing election anxiety

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

Two of my closest friends aren't speaking. Since the summer, neither can be in the same room the other; it's like putting two pit bulls in the same cage. What caused their falling out? Was it money, job conflicts or a bad relationship? Nope, blame politics. One strongly believes Washington needs a change and the other thinks we should put a maverick in the White House. It's gotten so tense, no one wants to be around them.

Political experts say this is one of the most passionate presidential races in modern history. Mix together, liberals, conservatives, the economy, the war, gay rights, Social Security, health insurance, abortion, race and feminism and you’re bound to hit a couple of nerves. Psychiatrists are calling it "election anxiety." The viciousness of the campaign is literally making people sick, to the point where many are looking for medication to calm their nerves. Some voters are so anxious, they can't sleep at night for fear their candidate will not win. According to the American Psychological Association, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the U.S., making it the most common mental illness in the country. Some anxiety disorders can be brought on by the uncertainty of our country's future. But don't look for relief at the voting booth. Many analysts warn the anxiety may not go away just by pushing a lever and watching the election results. If your candidate loses, it could start a whole new case of panic attacks and fears.

So what to do? Anxiety is usually caused by change, any change - a new president, a job move, the loss of a loved one. An anxiety disorder may result from a mixture of all or some of these factors. Stress is your body's response to change. Exercise helps your body relieve stress. It also will make your body stronger and better able to handle stress. What’s the best type of exercise to improve the way your body reacts to anxiety? Think aerobics. Getting your heart rate up and sweating can actually reduce stress. Doctors say, start gradually. Taking a walk a little bit every day is a good beginning. In Washington, D.C., where politics rules, Washington Sports Clubs actually offered a class called VOTERobics, where members could spin on "right wing" and "left wing" bikes, take aerobic lessons to music "Hail to the Chief" and "Born in the USA" and wallop punching bags with Barrack Obama and John McCain masks attached to them. Although it's all in fun, the idea of getting political frustrations out as you worked out, seemed to help.

You also can make changes in your diet that can rid you of anxiety, the APA says. Consuming a healthy diet filled with protein, veggies and fruits will make you stronger and help you cope with stress better. Drinking a lot of coffee? Try to cut down. Caffeine is a stimulant that can leave you feeling nervous. In large quantities it can cause panic attacks. And if you smoke, watch the nicotine, another stimulant to avoid.

And think positively. Sure, it's easier said than done, but adding a little laughter in your life, even if your candidate loses the election can help you cope with the the next four years. But doctors say, if the anxiety continues long after November 5, you may want to see a therapist.

As for my friends, it's hard to tell whether they will ever speak again. Chances are their political passions may simmer down after this Tuesday and they could be buddies again before the inauguration. And that’s positive, because according to mental health experts, making peace and forgiving one another is the best way to get rid of unwanted anger.

Are you feeling "election anxiety"? If so, tell us about it.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.