Election Anxiety: The One Thing Democrats And Republicans Agree On

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CHICAGO — Victoria St. Gelais is panicky. Tami Brewster-Barnes feels the nerves in the pit of her stomach. Steven Valentine is losing sleep as his mood rises and falls with John McCain's poll numbers.

Voters around the country, whether they support McCain or Barack Obama, say they are experiencing nail-biting, ulcer-inducing anxiety ahead of next week's election and all that's riding on it.

"I have kind of a general feeling of near panic on occasion," says St. Gelais, a 48-year-old McCain supporter in Ormond Beach, Fla. "The thought of Obama winning right now is scaring me to death. ... I'm just anxious and even a little depressed."

St. Gelais, like many, says she's not sleeping well, is watching Fox News nearly all day, and "lives on her computer," following all of the polls and the latest news. If Obama wins, she'll be devastated.

"I would equate it to a death," she says.

Although polls favor Obama a week before the election, it's not just Republicans getting the jitters. Democrats are on high alert after losing two close elections to President Bush in the last eight years.

Democratic blogger Cynthia Liu has dubbed it "Post-Traumatic Election Anxiety Disorder," with hallmarks including restless Web surfing for election information, sleeplessness and making desperate calls to undecided voters.

"It's a very high-stakes election," says Liu, a writer in Los Angeles.

Nancy Molitor, a psychologist in Wilmette, Ill., says this is the most anxious she has seen her patients in 20 years of practice.

"Human beings, generally we do better in periods of calm, stability and certainty," Molitor says.

And right now _ with war, a historic election and a looming financial crisis _ is most certainly not a time of calm. People are reporting trouble sleeping, edginess, irritability, and increased absences and distractions at work, Molitor says.

Add to that 24-hour cable news shows and near nonstop reporting, blogging and commenting online, and you've got a virtual stressfest for political junkies.

Elections generate so much stress because people vote out of a "very, very core place in their personalities," says Lisa Miller, an associate professor of psychology and education at Columbia University Teachers College in New York.

"It has to do with their existential view of how the world works," Miller says. "The fear is that a candidate who shares a different fundamental view of human nature is rattling."

Plus, we project all of our hopes and fears onto a candidate to protect us and keep us safe, she says _ so much so that the president becomes a "father figure."

"It certainly makes sense that the uncertainty of a parental figure could be evocative," she says.

Brewster-Barnes, a 40-year-old health-insurance company employee in Vancouver, Wash., wants to be able to tell her grandchildren that she voted for the first black president. But she also worries that Obama's racial background might turn off other voters.

So she's done all she could, including making phone calls on behalf of the campaign and donating to the cause even though money is tight.

"It was something I had to do," she says.

The election is even affecting the timing of Ray Brun's move. Currently, Brun and his family live in the swing state of New Hampshire, but they're packed up and ready to move to Kentucky _ after casting their votes for McCain, he says.

"I think our votes up here will be a little more influential," says Brun, 29.

Voting early, talking to friends or donating money are all healthy, pro-active responses, says Gretchen Rubin, a New York-based writer whose book, "The Happiness Project," comes out next year. Rubin spent a year testing every theory, study and self-help axiom on happiness that she could find.

"One thing I've learned from my study of happiness that is crazily effective is that you should act the way you want to feel," Rubin says. "We really feel because of the way we act."

When all else fails, she says, remember this: "No one's trying to ruin the country. Everybody's going to try to do their best."

Kellie Brown knows that. But the 32-year-old mom and technical recruiter in Evergreen, Colo., desperately wants Obama to be the next president. Even the polls showing him in the lead are no solace.

"I hate hearing those polls because I feel like it gives people the false thought that they can just relax and maybe not go to vote," Brown says.

What will happen when America wakes up on Nov. 5 and the results are in?

Valentine, a 19-year-old sophomore at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, says he doesn't know what he'll do if McCain loses.

"The College Republicans have given up countless hours of our time," Valentine says. "I haven't really prepared myself for (a McCain loss). I don't know what I'm going to do when the election is over."

As the race wraps up, Molitor is concerned about those who have the most emotional investment in the election.

"Some people are going to have to mourn this," she says. "This is going to be like a loss. It's going to be like a death. Some have been very passionate. It's become their life. It's become an obsession. And those people I'm worried about."