After six weeks of repetitive rhetoric, improbable promises, leaked documents, leaked conversations, interview blunders, no-shows, face-blows and oh-so-many TV debates – the 2019 General Election is finally here.
While you might assume that being drawn out to vote once a year for the past five years would lessen UK voters’ enthusiasm for elections, a recent Ipsos Mori survey suggests otherwise. Some 64% of adults reported that who wins the next general election is important to them personally – the highest proportion since 1987.
With a nation polarised in its feelings over Brexit, perhaps this is understandable. The stakes are high. But caring deeply about the election result and our subsequent actions – such as a winter trip to the polling station, staying up to hear the results and lying awake worrying about them – could have a variety of health implications.
How could the election be bad for our health?
We’ve analysed the data and conclude that today’s general election could be putting UK voters’ health at risk through increased levels of stress, sleep deprivation, a weakened immune system and exposure to winter bugs.
Caring about the result can result in increased stress levels. A study following the 2016 US presidential election found that 20% more people reported stress on election night. The highest stress levels were recorded in the East and West Coasts, where more people voted for the losing Democrat candidate, Hilary Clinton. Given that many believe the outcome of this election will largely come down to Brexit vs Remain, and how close these two camps are in numbers, it’s conceivable that we’ll see similar levels of election anxiety this side of the Atlantic.
Stress in itself is bad for our mental health, behaviour and physical health, even weakening the immune system against infection. Stress, anxiety or indeed excitement, can also have an impact on our sleep, which could be a risk for the 2019 general election. Fitbit wearers across the pond lost 30 minutes sleep on the night of the 2016 US Presidential Election – the highest loss of sleep they’ve ever recorded in one night. Every US state lost sleep, with Washington DC reporting the biggest loss, at nearly 50 minutes.
A lack of sleep also has an impact on our mental and physical health, but normally only if over a sustained period of time. However, a lack of sleep for a couple of nights could weaken the immune system, leaving the body more vulnerable to infection.
Cold weather can also impact on our immune system, explaining why we suffer more flu in winter than in summer. Older people are more vulnerable to the cold in this way, as well as other weather-related morbidities such as joint pain or constricted airways.
Since more people than ever before care about the result of the election, having older people leave the house in the depths of winter could see them sniffling over the festive period. This year may be particularly problematic since the number of hospital admissions from flu have risen earlier in the winter period than expected.
What can we do about it?
Thankfully, there are steps you can take to mitigate these risks, even if you didn’t have the foresight to register for a postal vote. If you’re heading to the polling station today, make sure you wrap up warm, perhaps get this year’s flu jab, try not to worry about who wins the election, trust John Curtice’s Exit Poll, and try to get a good night’s sleep – there’s nothing more you can do after 10pm anyway.