What is "post-election stress disorder," and how can you find support?

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated January 1, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Every year, the American Psychological Association conducts a survey called "Stress in America" to measure general attitudes and perceptions of stress among the public. In the 2020s, more Americans have reported increased stress levels about the nation's political climate after elections. The survey reported increased stress levels from all political parties and a higher incidence of physical and mental health symptoms, including anxiety, depression, headaches, and overwhelm.  

Some Americans have called this type of stress "post-election stress disorder." The term became popular after the 2016 US presidential election and continued to be discussed throughout the 2020 US presidential election. However, this term may be insensitive to people living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a real mental illness that causes a significant drop in functioning levels due to a traumatic event. 

Understanding stress post-election can involve understanding that this stress is not necessarily a mental illness but can be coped with using unique coping mechanisms and support systems. 

Are you experiencing stress related to the recent election?

What is post-election stress? 

Post-election stress involves anxiety characterized by feelings of hopelessness or dread after the conclusion of a critical political election. It is not a mental illness defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR). However, it is a prevalent response to elections.

According to the 2020 APA Stress Survey mentioned above, 68% of adults in the United States reported they felt the presidential election caused significant stress in their lives, regardless of political affiliation. 

Post-election stress often happens after presidential elections, but it can apply to any other election where the individual feels emotionally invested. People with little to no interest in politics may not experience this type of stress. Instead, it may be due to a changing political climate characterized by polarized points of view and the frequent tying of personality into political beliefs. Some people may take the results of an election personally, and others may feel stressed about what the results could mean about changing laws in the country. 

Why has post-election stress gained prominence? 

Below are a few reasons post-election stress may be more common in the 21st century than in previous years. 

Social media and news coverage 

Social media and 24-hour news may partly explain why post-election stress exists and why it has become widespread. When there is an upcoming presidential, state, or national election, the news constantly reports live results, moment by moment. These reports and discussions are often on cable news, the internet, and social media.

Social exposure 

Even individuals who do not partake in politics may be affected by the stressful political climate as friends, families, and coworkers discuss their thoughts at work, home, and school. Presidential races inundate the public consciousness, and many people form an opinion. Even if you are trying to avoid the news or social media during election season, you may be exposed to it by others.   

A growing concern for the future of the nation

Post-election stress may be connected to a growing concern about the country's future. For example, laws surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare, racism, economic crises, climate change, and trans rights are often at the forefront of news. Staying connected to national news is a value for some people. However, this connection and daily following of events can negatively impact one's well-being. 

The 2016 and 2020 elections were marked by difficult election procedures and two separate party elections. Republicans, Democrats, and independents experienced post-election stress during these elections, regardless of the outcome. 

How serious is post-election stress? 

It can be difficult to gauge how serious post-election stress disorder can be, as it is not an identifiable mental illness. However, acute stress or anxiety can impact a person's mental and physical health.

For example, people who are experiencing excessive stress may have the following physical and psychological symptoms: 

  • Feelings of hopelessness 
  • Constant worry
  • Forgetfulness
  • Poor judgment
  • Heart palpitations
  • Excessive sweating
  • An upset stomach
  • Headaches,
  • Low energy
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty focusing 
  • Nervousness
  • Shaking
  • Ringing in the ears 
  • Tense muscles and associated joint pain 

Some people experiencing stress may develop anxiety or a depressive disorder that may be best addressed professionally by a qualified healthcare provider. If you have been experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above for more than two weeks, check in with your healthcare provider, as they may be signs of an underlying physical or mental health condition. 

In judging the seriousness of post-election stress, clinicians may decide on a case-by-case basis. If you feel down following an election, you may be having an understandable and natural reaction. However, if you notice these symptoms worsening or want to manage them with support, consider setting up an appointment with a licensed therapist.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh

How to cope with post-election stress 

You may use several tools at home to reduce stress, including the following. 

Cut out inciting stimulus 

In some cases, stress may be reduced by taking action at home. Make a conscious effort to stop watching social media or editorialized television that involves politics or election coverage. You may consider refraining from looking at your social media feeds to not come across posts from friends and family that cause you stress. 

If you feel it is your social responsibility to stay on top of current political events, give yourself a break for a day or two. If what you see is causing you to feel severe stress to the point that you are experiencing physical and mental health symptoms, it may be more beneficial to take a step back before acting. 

Become politically active 

If you feel helpless because the party you do not support won the election, you might find relief by joining local political efforts or volunteering with a political agency. You do not necessarily need to run for office, but you can get involved with grassroots activism associated with the issues you feel strongest about. You can try to sign up voters for the next election or make phone calls spreading awareness about issues that will be voted on in your city or state. 

Find professional support for severe stress 

You may be experiencing such intense stress that you notice an accumulation of thoughts and symptoms that heavily impact your ability to function. You may be so focused on what is happening that you don't focus on relationships, careers, hobbies, or other responsibilities. 

If you're experiencing severe stress, it may be beneficial to seek professional help. You can begin by seeing your healthcare provider for a mental health screening. They can refer you to a mental health provider if they believe you're living with an anxiety or depressive disorder or another condition due to this stress. 


Medications, as prescribed by a physician or psychiatrist, may be appropriate if your stress or anxiety impacts daily life. Several medications can treat short-term symptoms of stress and mood conditions. Some may be prescribed daily for an extended period, while others may be taken as needed.  

If you are considering new medications or supplements, consult a doctor before starting, changing, or stopping your medical treatment.  

Yoga and meditation 

Your therapist or healthcare provider may suggest yoga, meditation, or mindfulness as stress reduction techniques. Even if you have never attempted meditation before, there are apps you can download to a device that can guide you through practice. You can try meditative practices any time, whether at night before you sleep or in the morning before work or school. Through meditation, you may reduce the number of distressing political thoughts you experience daily.  

Are you experiencing stress related to the recent election?

Professional support after an election

Some people may feel embarrassed about seeking support from a therapist after an election. If this is the case for you, you might benefit from online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp. Online therapy can be discreet, as you can choose a nickname instead of your real name. In addition, you can choose between phone, video, and chat sessions with your therapist.  

Clinicians have looked at post-election stress since the 2016 election. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine outlined the potential benefits a therapist could offer for those living with election stress or depression, including knowledge about state and local policies, connections to state and local support communities, and connections to state and local advocacy groups. Online therapy can offer additional benefits. One study found that online therapy was as effective as traditional in-person sessions, with participants in the online group showing continued symptom reduction three months after treatment. 


Debates about politics can cause significant stress. Regardless of your political beliefs, election stress can be difficult to manage. Taking a step back from political news, connecting with your values, and volunteering your passion may be productive ways to move forward. If you continue to struggle with political changes, consider contacting a licensed therapist to discuss these matters further.
Ease stress and mental exhaustion
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started