Following one of the most divisive campaign seasons in our history, many people are feeling stressed and emotionally exhausted. If you feel this way, you are not alone. The American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America” survey revealed that the 2016 presidential election has been a source of significant stress for more than half of Americans, regardless of their political party affiliation.
Some have even tried to make “election stress disorder” a legitimate diagnosis. Even though experts agree that it is not an actual disorder, the concept gestures towards just how much stress has been election-focused throughout the past year.
During medical training and following acute emergency events, clinical teams often hold a “debriefing,” during which the team gathers to process what happened and discuss what went right, what went wrong and what could be done better in the future. While a cohesive nationwide debriefing seems unlikely, there are ways to deal with the emotions that the election may have caused.
- Take a social media holiday. Use the time you would normally spend responding to social comments to recharge and do something positive. Take yourself away from your screen – especially if your eyes were glued to it on election night! Don’t make rash decisions to end contact with people on social media while you are angry or frustrated. You don’t want to ruin your relationship with Uncle Bill or Aunt Millie because you have different political views. Give it time.
- Consider your audience. You probably already know how some conversations about the election with coworkers, friends or family will go. Weigh the amount of conflict you are willing to endure with the importance of those relationships before engaging in potential cycles of hostility.
- Be in the moment. Avoid the common cognitive traps such as “catastrophizing,” in which we imagine only the worst case scenario, and “fortune-telling,” making negative predictions about the future and how events will play out. As the American Psychological Association points out, “Our political system and the three branches of government mean that we can expect a significant degree of stability immediately after a major transition of government. Avoid catastrophizing, and maintain a balanced perspective.”
- Try something new. If you are looking for other ways to calm your mind, you can try yoga, mindfulness activities, and exercise. All of these can reduce stress levels, both at the time you do them and afterwards, and they don’t have any side effects. If these activities are not to your taste, consider returning to activities you love.
If you would like to learn more, Vermont Public Radio aired an excellent podcast on this topic before the election, which features UVM psychology professors Sayamwong Hammack, PhD and Matthew Price, PhD.
Sara Pawlowski is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellow at the University of Vermont Medical Center.