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High ‘election anxiety’ palpable as polls near

/ 05:12 AM May 08, 2022
845 local candidates sure winners on May 9; #VotePH2022. STORY: High ‘election anxiety’ palpable as polls near

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MANILA, Philippines — For almost a week now, a 30-year-old grade-school guidance counselor said she has been losing sleep over the possible outcome of the elections on Monday.

She told the Inquirer in a recent interview that she had trouble sleeping at night, often waking up after a few hours of shuteye just to check the news.

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“I always think about what would happen after the elections because this does not end after May 9. The results of the poll will dictate our lives for six years and beyond,” she said, requesting not to be identified by name so she could speak more freely about what’s troubling her.

She already knows that “the main source” of this anxiety is the possibility that “incompetents” might be elected.

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“I think it really started hitting me at the start of this month. [I had] a realization that in a few days, the country’s decision will make or break us,” she said. “We will have senators who know nothing about the job and local politicians who just pass government positions to their family.”

She said she is also bothered by widespread disinformation on social media. Videos on TikTok and Facebook are spliced to create false and misleading information while facts are merely dismissed as “biased,” she said.

‘Milked by politicians’

“As an educator, I feel miserable because it shows how much the education system in the country has failed. And this failure is being milked by politicians to their advantage,” she said.

But she has found comfort in her fiancé and friends who share her anxiety about the elections. Sharing and talking about this experience seem to ease the feelings of restlessness and frustration over the polls.

Psychologist AJ Sunglao said this was “election anxiety,” which was recognized as a “circumstantial or situational” form of anxiety during the 2020 US elections when Republican billionaire Donald Trump defeated Democrat former US first lady Hillary Clinton.

“[It is] not a disorder or condition,” Sunglao said in a phone interview.

Individuals with election anxiety may feel restless, drained, easily on edge or have difficulty concentrating and develop physical symptoms like headache, stomachache and muscle pain, he said.

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Sunglao, a mental health advocate, said it would more likely affect individuals who “are very much engaged” in the news and in the election itself.

Filipinos have been feeling this kind of anxiety because many have been “very involved [in social media] and very much emotionally invested in the election,” he said.

“Now we’re feeling it, too, because this election feels very much like a heavy and important discussion for people,” Sunglao said.

Traced to surveys

The results of the most recent Pulse Asia survey with only a few days left before the polls caused anxiety among some of his own friends.

The survey showed that the son and namesake of the late ousted dictator was still way ahead of his main challenger, the widow who defeated him in the vice presidential race six years ago.

“That signified that we just have this much time left to be able to change [the results]. So, there’s that level of ‘we’re running out of time’ … and so it feels more real,” he said.

Because of this, some people are having trouble concentrating on work or have been putting off deadlines.

According to the Philippine Mental Health Association (PMHA), “concerns about how the election results will affect our lives have the potential to have a negative impact on our well-being.”

“Research has also shown that ruminating, or repetitive and excessive thinking, can impair our critical skills and problem-solving,” it said on its Facebook page.

PMHA suggests four ways to manage election anxiety: control social media consumption; have a “voting plan,” which involves engaging in “purposeful activities” like volunteering; avoid dwelling on worst-case scenarios; and stay connected with friends and family for emotional support.

How to cope

On Twitter, netizens have been sharing ways to put their minds off things that trigger their election anxiety and others are posting hopeful messages to cope.

Sunglao’s series of tweets on how to manage election anxiety generated more than 9,000 likes and almost 3,000 retweets as of Saturday.

He also listed tips on how to cope with the stress during an election season. The first thing to do is to “engage more consciously and not waste time on random trolls,” he said.

Sunglao advised scheduling social media consumption and prioritizing discussions about feelings of anxiety with someone or even a community as “it is normal to feel scared and worried.”

“A good way to engage is to volunteer … and it’s actually good for your mental health,” Sunglao said.

He suggested turning “this anxiety, this kind of energy, into doing clear actions with people who are also doing it. This is why community is important.”

Sunglao said Filipinos had become “more attuned to mental health language” mainly from sharing their anxiety over the COVID-19 pandemic and talking about it over the past two years.

“Not just for the elections, but for climate change, COVID, or other similarly heightened situations or highly emotional situations, [holding on to] hope is a good way to move you forward,” he said.

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