Last fall, University of Minnesota psychologist William J. Doherty decided to do some research into the emotional well-being of Americans in light of the 2016 Presidential election. His findings will likely not surprise you.
After commissioning a poll of 1,000 voting-age Americans, Doherty found that 43 percent reported experiencing “emotional distress related to Trump and his campaign.” Twenty-eight percent reported the same related to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Even worse, a whopping 90 percent of respondents feeling emotional distress said that it was “worse compared with any previous election.”
Tie the findings in with the overall negativity of the campaign, an unexpected outcome and a social media universe full of bullying, nastiness and fear-mongering and you get a country on the brink of a mental health crisis.
Therapists’ reactions to the anxiety in the country have been well documented by articles in Politico, Wired, and the Boston Globe. The mental health community is trying to grapple with how to support patients, their families and communities in the best way, and help them to know that “suck it up and move on” is not a healthy, or human, option in the face of severe anxiety and depression.
Along with seeking out a therapist or treatment provider, there are many ways to self-care, support family members and harness the tense environment in order to create good instead of negativity. These strategies are helpful to all, no matter your political persuasion, party ID, or even apathy. When so many people are anxious, exhausted, tense and frustrated, we need to take the opportunity to foster love, kindness, and respect, as that is what is so desperately needed during these times.
Other than seeking out the help of a therapist, here are some ways to lower anxiety levels:
1. Take a break from social media; yes, even charming cat videos. Even if you unfollow or unfriend those who post political messages, you still might end up reading something triggering (and you might make a choice to unfriend in the heat of the moment that you’ll regret later). Additionally, the peanut gallery is not going to offer you the comfort of real life human relationships and conversations. Get off digital, get face-to-face interaction. It’s amazing how much better disagreements are worked out face-to-face rather than in a comments section.
2. Practice acceptance of the current situation and differing opinions. Whatever your views, the 2016 election left much to be desired and revealed ugly divisions in the electorate and even within families. Yet… it is important to remember that you loved this individual, friend or family member before you knew who they were voting for, just as they loved you. Much in life it outside our control: that includes people’s judgments (wise and unwise), the outcome of presidential elections, tragedies and victories, even our genetics. Don’t give an opposing viewpoint power over your emotions. You dictate your emotional state and what you allow to unseat your sense of inner calm. Meditation, prayer, mindfulness, bible study, deep conversations with supportive people can help support the practice of acceptance. Often, when you stay calm in the face of deep division and anger, others will follow your lead, and diffusion becomes inevitable.
3. Harness fierce energy and emotion for good. Was a passion ignited in your heart during this past year? Did an issue come to light that inspired you to act? Use this energy and passion to serve your community, your family, and make a difference. At the end of the day, real change happens in the home, in our towns and workplaces. Be the change you wish to see. Be kind. Show grace. Raise your voice in cheer or protest if you will, but do not do only that: action creates change. Do not stir up drama, be love in action.
4. Look around and be grateful. We still live in one of the wealthiest and most blessed nations in the world, with the highest standard of living in history, with incredible opportunity and safety. Yes there is a lot wrong in our nation, but there is a lot that is right. Be thankful for running water, for grocery stores, for the sun in the sky, for little things like Febreze. Everywhere you look, there is an opportunity for gratitude. When the negativity threatens to overwhelm you, narrow your focus to what is right in front of you and choose gratitude. Focusing on the positive is much more fruitful, powerful, and contagious.
True greatness and hope in this country doesn’t begin and end with politics. It comes from individuals with strong hearts and spirits, encouraging one another and finding common ground. Get a good support system of a therapist if need be, family and friends, get out your feelings, and get into service. Find a loving community and relationships and use them for good. We all need it.