by Jessica Weber
It comes as no surprise that the presidential election has left many feeling a wide range of emotions, many of them negative. But unlike previous elections, the extent of its effect on the psyche of millions of Americans is unprecedented. An American Psychological Association survey states “52 percent of American adults report that the 2016 election is a very or somewhat significant source of stress.” And this was prior to the actual results.
On the day of the election, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline reported a spike in calls, two to three times more than average, while The Trevor Project reported double the average number of calls post-results, with 95 percent of callers discussing the election. In a recent survey by One Medical, 42 percent reported an increase in their stress levels in the weeks following the election.
“People had not mentally prepared for what [the election results] meant to them personally and how that might challenge their personal values,” said Andrew Lapin, founder and executive director of Cultivate Counseling Center in Bolton, Mass. “Some clients have expressed feelings of mourning and a tremendous sense of loss.”
So, what can you do if you are experiencing stress or anxiety post-election? Thankfully, there are many tactics to help you regain a sense of balance.
Sarah Khawaja, a clinical psychologist in California, suggests keeping a structured routine and building in time to release your frustration. “Allow yourself time to vent, but once the time has run out, focus on the rest of the day-to-day activities in your routine, and stay focused and positive,” she said. “This allows you down time to be as negative as you want to be, to whine, to vent, but the purpose of keeping it in an allotted time frame is to give yourself permission to do it for just that portion of the day, and then to move on and not let what you cannot control take over your life.”
Lapin advises interacting with an animal to help alleviate stress. “Physical touch with an animal has proven to help restore heart rates and blood pressure to lower, healthier rates, particularly for those experiencing anxiety or stress,” he said. “Interacting with an animal provides a being who will just listen, not offer advice, or fix anything, or judge your experience.”
Lapin also suggests assembling a support system. “People feeling distress need to seek out community, not confrontation, especially face-to-face community where people can feel validated and supported. In-person interactions allow for a human response to a human experience. Now is the time to lean on those you trust or seek out more like-minded people,” he said.
If you are feeling a loss of control over your life, there are ways you can regain it. “We tend to have more control over our situations and feelings of stress or anxiety than we initially think,” said Erica Carlos, a school psychologist in Redlands, Calif. “A great example is when we are in conversations with others who express themselves in a way that may lead to an increase in our anxiety level. Politely excuse yourself and place yourself in a more savory environment. Actively and positively utilize the control that you do have. Place yourself with individuals who help increase your positive thinking and decrease levels of stress.”
It is important to recognize, however, if professional help may be necessary. “I would suggest that one seek help once thoughts and feelings have effects on other areas of your life,” said Carlos. “If your level of anxiety is leading to problems sleeping, getting out of bed, leaving the house, functioning efficiently at work or with daily activities, then it is time to seek professional advice.”
Something these three mental health professionals all emphasize is the need for self-care and pinpointing positive outlets.
“Find the simple daily activities that honor your process and allow you moments of peace and clarity,” said Lapin. “For some it is a warm bath, a good book, their favorite warm beverage. For others it is connecting with friends or going to the gym. Whatever self-care looks like, engage in it. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself, and it actually helps you better take care of others.”
“The election outcome might not be in one’s control. However, the way one behaves and interacts with others during this stressful time as a nation can lead to positive changes and decisions,” said Khawaja. “Now is the time to bring communities together and strengthen relationships with different allies. Now is the time to work together towards a healthy and common goal.”
And many are finding channeling negative emotions into socially positive acts has helped them reduce stress and regain a sense of control. Sandra Hahn, a 27-year-old copywriter from Orange, Calif., decided to donate to a woman’s shelter in the wake of the election. “It gave me a measure of relief and control, knowing that positive change was attainable if we chose to pursue it,” she said.
Samantha Fowler, a 28-year-old marketing professional from Denver. pursued a variety of positive activities, including donating blood and organizing a charity event for underprivileged youth. “I just felt like I had to do something to make a positive change,” she said. “Being better than who I was a year ago makes me incredibly happy. Hell, being better than I was a day ago makes me happy.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jessica Weber is a graduate student at Emerson College pursuing her M.A. in publishing. She currently works as co-production editor for Redivider and as the circulation and publicity intern for Harvard Education Press. She is also a freelance artist. Prior to moving to Boston, she interned at Red Hen Press and has worked as a newspaper stringer, movie review writer and painting instructor. Follow her @webicajesser.