After several anxious days awaiting election results, Joe Biden was announced as the new president of the United States. While many were thrilled over the results, nearly half were left heartbroken, upset, and even angry and in denial. Regardless of whether or not your preferred candidate won, there is still uncertainty for all. That ambiguity is why high stakes elections like this are stressful and can take a toll on our mental health. With the holidays right around the corner, knowing how to cope with the aftermath is crucial for harmonious interactions with friends and relatives who may share different political viewpoints. Managing your own emotions – whether elated or disappointed, is also key for moving forward.
Understanding Post-Election Depression
America is special because it is a melting pot of millions of people with different backgrounds and perspectives. Yet the very reason that makes the country unique is often the same one that divides those living in it. It is why elections have always and will always trigger distress. If you take a look at past elections you’ll see that many Americans were unhappy in 2008 following Barack Obama’s victory and in 2016 when Donald Trump was elected. Grief, sadness, fatigue, loneliness and other symptoms of depression are all natural responses to electoral defeat.
In the nation’s contentious political divide, this certainly persists to ring true. Although politics and mental health are often not associated with each other, the two are far more intricately connected than people realize. For example, a survey performed in 2004 by Pew Research Center discovered that in the wake of George Bush’s election, 29% of Kerry supporters felt depressed. Similarly, a 2008 Associated Press poll uncovered that 25% of Republicans felt comparable negative emotions following the election of Barack Obama. It is no surprise that grief-related Google searches spiked following both 2008 and 2016 elections.
Moving Forward with Perspective
People handle loss in many different ways. Sometimes when things do not go as expected people will catastrophize the outcome. This mental process is one in which an individual may anticipate the worst possible consequence of the event or results, often with unlikely scenarios.
Catastrophizing and fixating on negative thoughts can lead to detrimental mental health issues and is simply an uncomfortable way to live. Thoughts that spin out of control can lead to exacerbation of anxiety and stress. Questioning them instead of permitting them to carry us away is critical.
Getting those thoughts under control through various approaches can help disappointed individuals gain a sense of perspective and optimism. When you start to feel anxious or worry about the election results, check in with yourself and ask thought-provoking questions such as, “What are the chances of what I am thinking actually happen?” or “Have my worries about previous election results actually happened?”
Taking the time to think about your thinking can offer a less negative approach and give you a sense of balanced perspective.
Avoiding Conflict and Effectively Communicating with Others
You may be pleased with the results of the election but be stressed or anxious regarding friends and family members who are taking the news hard. Before interacting with those who disagree with you on politics, manage your expectations. Peter Coleman a researcher and expert at the International Center for Conflict Resolution, suggests that before going into a conversation set ground rules for yourself about the type of discussion you are willing to have with loved ones.
Even if you do your best to avoid a political conversation, sometimes triggers are inevitable. But know the difference between a debate and a dialogue. A debate involves persuaded others that you are right while a dialogue opens you up to learning and discovery. It is absolutely possible to have a kind and interesting conversation if you approach it with a nuanced understanding of the other person’s values. If possible, speak less and be an engaged listener in an effort to open up the conversation.
Share your thoughts, but if the other person’s views cause you to become distressed, do your best to change the subject or simply excuse yourself. You do not need to force yourself to engage in an uncomfortable situation. At the end of the day you are still family. If it is a friend with which you are arguing, remember why you became friends and enjoyed their company outside of politics.
Seek Professional Help
If you are overwhelmed with anxiety and stress regarding the election results, it is time to get help. You deserve to live a life free of ongoing anxiety and should be able to live in harmony with friends and family members with differing viewpoints.
A professional therapist or online counselor can help you get the mental health treatment you need to tackle your feelings to help cope with the difficult emotions of the election outcome.