Feeling Exhausted? It Could Be An Election Hangover
No matter who you voted for, it's clear that many people really, really care about the 2020 election. At least four states had record voter turnout that surpassed 2016 numbers during early voting alone, and some political analysts estimate the total vote count could be the highest we've seen in a century. This, all in the midst of and despite a pandemic.
But if you woke up the next day (or for the following days/weeks) feeling like crap, it's not just that bottle of merlot you guzzled while waiting for the results — you probably have an election hangover.
Odds are you feel awful no matter who you voted for — and it won't go away regardless of which candidate wins. that's because it's all your pent up emotion and inner turmoil (not to mention the disfunction you witness on the news every night) that experts say is to blame rather than the election results themselves.
Learn more about why election hangovers happen, what symptoms to recognize, and how to deal with them fast...because hair of the dog just isn't going to cut it this time.
What Is An Election Hangover?
To be clear: Election hangovers are not an actual medical condition, but that doesn't make the experience any less real, say mental health experts. Election hangovers can make you wake up feeling tired, mentally foggy, gloomy, and just generally down about life. You may even have a headache from all the stress. Think of it as a Sunday morning hangover after a Saturday night bender, just without the booze.
"High levels of anxiety and the worry that accompanies the election is both physically and mentally exhausting," says Craig Smith, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University. "It can lead you to be physically tired, and it can lead to intrusive thoughts about your worries that cause difficulties in focusing on other things."
In the case of the 2020 election, the stress of the race has been building far longer than typical, says Smith. "People have been very anxious about this election and its potential outcome for quite some time," he says. "In many cases, this anxiety is on top of the anxieties many people have had around the pandemic and the often difficult adjustments it demanded in their lives." (Related: How and Why the Coronavirus Pandemic Is Messing with Your Sleep)
That all comes to a head on election day as people anxiously await the results, and all that tension can impact you physically, says Gail Saltz, M.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at the NewYork Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine and host of the "Personology" podcast from iHeartRadio. "The mind and body are connected — what you feel emotionally plays out in your body via the neurochemicals and hormones that are released and affect you physiologically," explains Dr. Saltz.
Psychologist John Mayer, Ph.D., author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, goes as far as comparing an election hangover to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition that can develop in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. "Even though this 'traumatic stress' is not to the scale of say, being in war, people have experienced great stress about this election because of the consequences it has for the future," he says.
Chronic stress and anxiety can be "quite damaging" and "physically debilitating," says Smith. Translation: An election hangover might not be cured with merely a bacon, egg, and cheese per usual.
Election Hangover Symptoms
Here's some of what you might be feeling today (or into the next several weeks), according to the experts.
- Fatigue — Constantly thinking about politics and worrying about the outcome of the election can give you tunnel vision. "The result is classic 'burnout' in many people," says Mayer. "We just don't have the cognitive and emotional energy to expend any more thought or emotion on this event."
- Gloominess — This is a direct result of uncertainty about what the future will hold, says Mayer.
- Negative thoughts — "No matter what the outcome of the election, there will be lingering negativity," says Mayer. People will be wondering, "Will there be retaliation? Will the results of the election be challenged? Will previous policies be changed?" (Related: Doomscrolling Is Ruining Your Mood—Here's What It Is and How to Stop It)
- Mental fog — "Constant, chronic, and building stress can cause mental fogginess," says Dr. Saltz. "It interrupts concentration. So does high anxiety." Plus, sometimes, the fogginess can have a more simple cause: You stayed up too late watching the election returns, and your brain is just wiped, adds Smith.
How to Recover from An Election Hangover
Some hangovers (including election hangovers in 2020) can take a little longer to shake than others. But there are a few things you can do to recover a little quicker this time around.
- Remember that you did your part. You turned out to vote and hopefully encouraged your friends and family to do the same. Reminding yourself that you played an important role in a historic election and the democratic process can help give you a mental boost, says Smith.
- Distract yourself. If you feel especially anxious about the election results, Smith recommends trying to do something to get your mind off the news. That could mean reaching out to family and friends, reading a book, or binge-watching Netflix. (See also these relaxing bath products.)
- Consider disengaging with social media. "Avoid aggressive and negative conflicts, drama, and toxic situations," says Mayer. Whether you're celebrating a victory or admitting defeat, it can be difficult to avoid reacting publicly, but during such a divisive election race, doing so might provoke more harm than good to your mental health and hangover — and to those around you.
- Get some sleep. While getting quality shut-eye when you're stressed can be a tall order, "do what you can to calm your body and mind," because sleep can greatly reduce stress levels, says Dr. Saltz. Try winding down your brain before bed with a (non-political) book, or listening to some calming music.
- Squeeze in a workout. Find time for some form of exercise, says Mayer. Moving your body helps release endorphins, which can help you feel more positive and alert, he says.
- Find some perspective. It can feel extremely difficult right now, but remember that "no matter what the outcome, life will continue after the election," says Smith. Whether your candidate wins or not, prioritizing your health will allow you to continue to work for the changes you believe in, says Dr. Saltz. Just give yourself a little grace period. You're hungover, after all.