Right the ship: Finding balance during the election
There’s a lot going on in the world right now that can upset the most balanced of equilibriums. COVID-19 has caused widespread illness and economic hardship, as our country also goes through ongoing social change and national introspection.
And, then, of course, there’s the election.
Charma D. Dudley, PhD, Associate Director of Behavioral Health at Beacon Health Options, describes a session with a private-practice client who was feeling increased anxiety and depression. The session sums up what many Americans are feeling. “Wake me up when it’s over,” the client asked. Assuming she meant COVID-19 and other corresponding events, Dr. Dudley questioned her. With her voice trembling, tears in her eyes, the client stated …the election!
This client is not alone. There are many others who have lost sleep; tossed and turned; and argued with family, friends and colleagues. The common denominator? Politics. Consequently, Beacon Health Options asked four of its behavioral health professionals specific questions concerning the election and how to handle it. Here are their responses.
1. How do I deal with family members, friends, coworkers or spouse who taunts me about their candidate’s victory and my candidate’s loss?
Dr. Usman: One thing to keep in mind is that two seemingly opposite things can both be true. In the case of relationships, one example is that you can love a close family member but really dislike their political viewpoints. Since you can’t change the other person, it is something you must accept if the relationship is to continue. Of course, you should tell people who are taunting you that they should respect your feelings and that it would probably be best to talk about something other than the election.
Dr. Langenhan: Oftentimes, such taunts are designed to get a rise out of someone and/or start a heated discussion, so address it in the same way we deal with bullies: focus on how you are not going to give them the reaction (anger, disappointment, etc.) that they are seeking and either change the subject or walk away from the conversation.
Dr. Monteith: There are a number of possible approaches ranging from changing the subject to telling them you’re not interested in the discussion. Or one can take a ‘philosophical’ approach about how democracy can be ‘messy’ and that, at end of the day, we all need to live together and respect one another. A ‘bottom line’ is to appropriately set limits with which you are comfortable.
Dr. Dudley: Listen for a few minutes as others engage in conversation about the upcoming election and the results, then pivot. Be respectful of someone’s opinions, and change the subject, particularly when those views may not align with your own.
2. If my candidate loses, how do I deal with my own feelings of loss and disappointment?
Dr. Usman: The first thing to remember is that the result of an election is something beyond your control. All you can do is accept what has happened. Try to limit the amount of political news or social media you see covering your candidate’s defeat. Distract yourself from obsessive thoughts and feelings about the outcome. Before the election, imagine your candidate has been defeated. Think about the feelings this brings on and try to make peace with it.
Dr. Langenhan: First, acknowledge that it is okay to feel sad and disappointed that your candidate didn’t win. . . . Channel that energy into what you can control: letter-writing to your local government officials; volunteering for a cause you believe in; donating, if it is within your means, to an organization that advocates for the ideals/causes that your candidate stands for; or using social media or other platforms (judiciously) to voice your mind and educate others about the issues that your candidate was running on.
3. How do I prevent my election-related anxiety from getting worse?
Dr. Langenhan: Remind yourself that, as a country, we have endured a wide variety of challenges under a wide variety of leadership and leadership styles. Identify the triggers that seem to be exacerbating the anxiety and limit your exposure to those triggers. These might include media coverage; social media outlets; or certain friends or co-workers who overemphasize political talk.
Dr. Monteith: Focus on the basics of exercise, eat well, get enough sleep, connect with loved ones, and take breaks from the news and election-related thoughts. Practice stress-reduction techniques, such as mindfulness or meditation. Be humble, keeping in mind that you can only control those things over which you have authority.
4. What are the coping strategies to handle the barrage of potentially negative media coverage if my candidate loses?
Dr. Dudley: Take a deep breath, visualize something positive, ignore negative self-talk and practice coping skills.
Dr. Usman: You don’t have to cut yourself off from the outside world entirely but setting some limits will help. You might, for example, limit TV news to 30 minutes once a day or social media to 15 minutes twice a day. If people around you are frequently talking about the election, ask them to change the subject if it’s bothering you.
5. How do I deal with the uncertainty of a potentially contentious outcome after Election Day?
Dr. Usman: There is a higher risk of disruption after this year’s election as people are particularly polarized in their viewpoints. The COVID-19 pandemic has also added uncertainty about how the election will be conducted and how an unsuccessful party might react to loss. Without dwelling on the negative possibilities, give some thought to your safety and that of your family. Think of it like you would a hurricane warning, making a plan of how you would respond but hope that you won’t ever need to use that plan.
Dr. Monteith: COVID is the perfect excuse to stay in our homes and safely socialize with supportive friends and family. Give the election-related tension time to pass.
6. How do I repair relationships that have been damaged due to arguments around this election?
Dr. Langenhan: Don’t set up an expectation that one is going to change the other’s mind. If it seems, after that, that the relationship is salvageable, agree to limit the political conversations and focus on the other values and activities that you share. If this is a challenging thing to do in person at the outset, consider a letter or email as a way to introduce the topic.
Dr. Monteith: Gradually build trust. Keep forgiveness, humility, gratitude, respect, and generosity top-of-mind. Focus on common ground. Reconnect through non-election-related topics or activities.
Regardless of the election’s outcome, we all have to remember what it is that makes us human – the capacity for reason, for respect and civility – which positively affects our personal mental health and that of others. For more information on how to handle election stress, click here to view Beacon’s tip sheet.