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Election Anxiety and Stress Are Terrible for Your Heart

Heart attacks and strokes spiked after the 2016 election. For your body’s sake, here’s how you can manage election anxiety in 2020

If you weren’t already stressed, allow me to sprinkle a little extra horror-news on you. According to new research from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Kaiser Permanente, hospitalizations for heart attacks and strokes were 1.62 times more prevalent in Southern California in the two days following the 2016 election compared to the week prior. This likely means that, yup, election stress can literally give you a heart attack. 

Why am I bringing this up now, the day before an election? I guess to… warn you???? 

We’ve known that “acute cardiovascular disease events” like heart attacks and strokes are often triggered by stressful events. There are even correlations between heart attacks and things like the Super Bowl and Christmas Eve. This is basically because emotional stress causes literal, physical stress upon the body. Typically, the damaging effects of stress upon the body are caused by long-term stress: When we’re constantly stressed, our bodies are chronically producing cortisol. As psychologist Cathy Allsman has previously explained for MEL, cortisol leads to inflammation, which in turn can lead to a whole host of health problems

Among these health problems, of course, are ones pertaining to the heart. In the most basic terms, a stressed, inflamed heart simply doesn’t work as well as it should. The heart has to work much harder to perform and eventually becomes fatigued. When a fatigued heart is confronted with a major burst of stress-related cortisol, it may not be as equipped to handle it

Essentially, some people’s hearts hit their breaking point as election night peaks. 

So what the hell are you supposed to do about it? Well, whatever it is you can do to manage your stress. It sounds stupid and patronizing, but practices like deep breathing, yoga and meditation can have an immediate effect in lowering the stress of the body by halting the flow of cortisol and slowing the heart rate. Obviously, they aren’t going to cure the pure dread of the evening, but they’ll at least make a difference in its toll on the body. Deep breathing in particular has been proven to lower your heart rate and other physiological signs of stress.

In just about every regard, this election is a nightmare. With the number of people voting and the already heightened stress people are experiencing for, uhhhh, all the other things people are stressed about, it’s quite possible that heart attack and stroke cases this time around will be even higher than in 2016. 

Genuinely, you need to take care of yourself. Consider not watching the news or checking your phone. Try to convince your parents and older loved ones at higher risk of heart problems to do the same. Do a puzzle. Drink some tea. Be completely fucking boring. 

Seriously! Do what it takes to keep your stress low and keep yourself out of the hospital.