Election Depression & Anxiety Can Fuel Eating Disorders

Coping with the election in recovery

If the 2020 elections have left you feeling anxious and depressed, you’re not alone. Seventy-six percent of Democrats, 67 percent of Republicans, and 64 percent of Independents say the 2020 presidential election is a “significant source of stress” in their lives, according to the American Psychological Association [1]. So no matter your political beliefs or leanings, the 2020 race could lead to election depression and anxiety.

And for those susceptible to an eating disorder or with an existing eating disorder diagnosis, election depression and anxiety can fuel eating disorders and trigger ED symptoms.

Depression & Anxiety Can Fuel Eating Disorders

The National Eating Disorder Association reports that over 50 percent of individuals with EDs are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder [2]. While anxiety does not cause eating disorders (EDs are instead caused by a combination of genetic and environmental components), research shows that anxiety and depression can trigger susceptible individuals.

In fact, studies have shown that both restriction and purging have a direct impact on the brain’s “feel-good” neurotransmitters. For example, bingeing releases dopamine, which temporarily relieves depression and anxiety symptoms, while caloric restriction reduces serotonin, which may temporarily reduce anxiety and bring about a sense of calm [3],[4].

This means anxiety and depression can fuel bingeing, purging, or restriction in susceptible individuals. Furthermore, in the late 1900s, renowned doctor and researcher, Hilde Bruch, discovered that one of the key motivators fueling eating disorder behaviors is the need for control.

Bruch found that susceptible individuals often turn to ED behaviors to maintain control over one small aspect of their life when everything else feels chaotic and out of control. With all the chaos and uncertainty 2020 has already brought, coupled with the presidential election, it’s no wonder some may be turning to ED behaviors as a way to cope with the stress and uncertainty around them.

Unfortunately, turning to ED behaviors to help relieve anxiety and depression can have devastating impacts on your future health and happiness. Engaging in ED behaviors during times of stress and anxiety reinforces ED symptoms and can also lead to relapses and make recovery much harder.

The good news is, you don’t have to turn to your eating disorder behaviors to help you cope with election depression and anxiety. There are numerous other positive ways to manage your feelings and get through these difficult times. So if you’ve been feeling extra anxious around the election, here are four tips to help you relieve anxiety and depression while staying strong in ED recovery.

Managing the Symptoms

Man getting active to help with his election depression and anxietyUnplug: If scrolling through Twitter or watching the news leaves you feeling extra anxious, consider taking a day (or even a week) break. Delete the app or turn the TV completely off and focus on doing something you love like reading a book, taking a walk in nature, or relaxing in a bubble bath. The news will still be there when you come back, but chances are, you’ll feel much calmer and refreshed after a break.

Get Moving: If you’ve been sitting around the house feeling depressed or anxious about the election, it may be time to burn up some of that negative energy! Consider doing a yoga flow or going for a gentle walk or jog (if your ED treatment team allows exercise) to help release stress and boost your mood.

Stay Connected: Studies show that people who have one or two friends/family members they can turn to for emotional support tend to cope better with stress than those who try to manage alone. So do your best to stay connected with friends and family during this time. It may be as simple as a phone call, a text, or meeting up for coffee.

Realign Your Focus: Once you’ve cast your vote, there’s not much more you can do to change the election outcome. So instead of stressing over results you can’t control, try to focus your energy on things you can control. Consider volunteering your time or money to a cause that’s important to you, check in with a friend to see how they’re doing, give food to a homeless person, or send a care package to someone who may need extra encouragement right now.


[1] American Psychological Association. 2020 Presidential Election a Source of Significant Stress for More Americans than 2016 Presidential Race. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2020/10/election-stress.

[2] Statistics & Research on Eating Disorders. National Eating Disorders Association. (2020, May 8). https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders.

[3] Tetyana. (2015, September 7). The Benefits of Starving – Part II (Restricting Reduces Anxiety in Anorexia Nervosa). Science of Eating Disorders. https://www.scienceofeds.org/2013/09/04/the-benefits-of-starving-part-ii-restricting-reduces-anxiety-in-anorexia-nervosa.

[4] Bello, N. T., & Hajnal, A. (2010). Dopamine and binge eating behaviors. Pharmacology, biochemistry, and behavior, 97(1), 25–33. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pbb.2010.04.016.

About the Author:

Sarah Musick PhotoSarah Musick is a freelance writer who specializes in eating disorder awareness and education. After battling with a 4-years long eating disorder, she made it her mission to help others find hope and healing in recovery.

Her work has been featured on numerous eating disorder blogs and websites. When she’s not writing, Sarah is off traveling the world with her husband.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published November 10, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on November 10, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.