Election Anxiety

July 1, 2017

The article below was written in attempt to help people dealing with all the raw emotions and aggression that were breaking out in the midst of an election campaign that was just getting started, when the result was far from known.

Sadly, there is very little to change about what was advised about “a season” over a year ago, since the situation has actually worsened. The rawness of public discourse and the sense of uncertainty about the future have only grown.

What is necessary is that you take care of yourself and not lose perspective. Another election will come and there will be another chance to have your voice heard.

Politics and life are a marathon, not a sprint. Take care of yourself.


March 07, 2016

The unusual USA presidential election season is having an impact on people around the world. It is increasing anxiety for people both in the USA as well as in other countries. It is a major topic of conversation. People inside and outside the USA, especially where I have been traveling Latin America, wonder if we have lost our collective mind. And the answer is, yes.

Anxiety develops when there is an uncertain outcome. In past elections, where there might have been big political differences, there was still a similarity in how the political system was viewed and used. In this election season, all of the previously accepted norms seem to have been tossed out the window. No one, especially on the Republican side, has any idea what is going to happen. Someone has taken the deck of 52 cards and two Jokers and tossed it into the air; where the cards will land is anyone’s guess.

SO HOW IS THIS PUBLIC BRAWL IMPACTING PEOPLE?

It is similar to a slow motion train wreck. Everyone knows it is going to be ugly but, they can’t take their eyes off of it. Frozen in horror and fascination at the same time.

But it increases anxiety. Watching a 90-minute horror movie will also increase your anxiety, but at least you know it is “only a movie” and it is going to end, so the end does not really matter. Neither of those applies with the election of the President of the United States. We will have to live with the consequences. As a result, people are acting strangely. Even for a political season, there is a great deal of candidate-bashing and extreme positions taken by otherwise seemingly intelligent people in private/public conversations on Facebook. Friends are being un-friended. Families are battling. All over what *might* happen. It has certainly brought into the open the undertow of frustration about the deadlock in our political and government life.

Now that the 'genie’ has been let out of the bottle, is it possible to put it back? Can we or do we want to return to being a civil society? Time will tell.

WHAT I BELIEVE WILL HAPPEN AS A CONSEQUENCE IS:

-An increased number of marriages and divorces: People may either leave unhappy marriages or leave their own isolation to choose marriage. Either decision can reflect an attempt to increase a sense of safety or control, as in “I don’t have to do this or face this alone,” or “I am better off dealing with this alone.”

-An increase in suicides or attempts: People who are suicidal are already in a great deal of internal pain. Our nation is now reflecting its shared pain externally and that can push some people over the edge to suicide, because there will be no relief or sanctuary from the pain inside. If they turn on the TV or internet, it's still there. As relationships are strained by the continued conflict about people’s beliefs and ideals, it can also increase the isolation of people who are already feeling isolated.

-Family/Friendship Fractures: Religion and politics are two of the most divisive things that people can talk about. This election season offers plenty of both, to debate. As a result, families and friends across the spectrum who have maintained  a ‘don’t ask/don’t tell’ relationship about areas of strong disagreement will often find the pressure of the current environment simply too much to keep silent. Just as there is clearly a political realignment in our country going on, this could easily accelerate personal and family realignments as well.

WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?

Reduce your time spent on reading about and watching the election. After 9/11, people watched video of the Twin Towers coming down, again and again, and thus became more traumatized than they needed to be. Take your eyes off the train wreck. Whether you watch it or not, it is going to happen. Less is more: more perspective, less trauma from watching all the silliness of the season.

Spent time reading largely neutral websites (not TV) that use fact checking to help keep a sense of reality about what is real and not.:The Washington Post, Politico, the Guardian and BBC, for example.

Do some good: Get away from the TV and volunteer. Make a donation to an animal shelter or the food bank. Do something that contributes to making this a better world.

The upside of all of this is that when truths are told and pain is exposed, even if it is ugly, there is the potential for healing. Until we face our own truths and pain, we cannot begin to examine the bigger truths and heal the pain of our society.

The downside is the loss of relationships that might be inevitable in this conflictual process. Perhaps they were not healthy relationships to begin with, and people were holding on to them for the wrong reason. There is an opportunity to be freer and in healthier relationships with people who are more aligned with who they are.

So the imagined consequences of today's increased anxiety may be real, but hopefully healing and growth will still be a positive result of this unusual season.