Much has been written and discussed about the stress Americans of all political persuasions have experienced since the recent national elections about six months ago. In fact, the American Psychological Association’s recent annual Stress in America survey revealed record levels of reported stress from Americans with politics being the main culprit. The phrase, Post-Election Stress Disorder, has been bantered around to try and capture what appears to be a common list of symptoms that include depression, distress, discombobulation, and dysphoria (the 4 D’s) associated with reactions to the November 2016 election results. And on an anecdotal note, all of my clinical patients (not to mention neighbors, colleagues, friends, and various acquaintances) have discussed their worries and concerns about the rapidly changing political landscape during the past few months with intensity and pressured speech. The recent decision to withdraw from the Paris climate change treaty last week seems to have made these concerns much worse as well.
But after initial shock often comes habituation. Many state that the daily news reports have them beginning to feel numb. This is certainly consistent with theories about chronic stress and trauma in that as stress becomes chronic many attempt to cope passively by habituation leading to a sense of learned helplessness and numbness. A new normal sets in and many, after awhile, don’t even realize the high levels of stress that they are experiencing.
It becomes especially important to work against this trajectory and unfolding chronic fatigue syndrome like experience to find ways to cope in a more productive, health enhancing, and active manner. Taking care of one’s body, mind, and soul as well as getting social support from those of like mind becomes critical for more effective and productive coping.
Observation learning instructs us that we tend to model our behavior after notable others. Sadly, there appears to be an uptick in aggressive, discriminatory, and violent behavior associated with changing political times and the behavior of some politicians. Leaders who model aggressive, boorish, and discriminatory language and behavior not only get away with it but are even reinforced by it make, which matters so much worse. Rather than habituating to these new realities and models, it becomes very important to reflect on our core values and to help model the kind of behaviors that we hold near and dear. For example, if you are distressed by the current political realities and models then perhaps now, more than ever, is a time for you to model respect, kindness, graciousness, inclusion, and compassion to others as an important foil to the new realities of today.
So, here are five strategies everyone can do to help minimize post-election stress disorder to avoid turning this stress into a type of chronic fatigue syndrome.
1. Embrace your core values. Take a deep breath and ask yourself “who are you and who do you want to be?” What virtues, values, and ways of being are near and dear to you? Perhaps qualities like respect, compassion, kindness, graciousness, and inclusiveness may come to mind. Perhaps responsibility, integrity, and helpfulness come to mind as well. Try to organize and center yourself on the virtues and values that are most dear to you and use them like a mantra to help guide your thoughts and behaviors. Consider discussing and sharing them with others as well.
2. Avoid too much media. Be attentive to how much media (including social media) you absorb. Avoid too much media exposure that increases your stress levels, habituation, and fatigue.
3. Help others. The boy scouts use a phrase, “Do a good turn daily” to encourage doing something that helps others each and every day. It is a good strategy to remind you that we often feel best about ourselves when we are doing something for others and it is a strategy that builds community too.
4. Nurture social support. Surround yourself with those who care about you and who you can discuss your concerns with while doing the same for others.
5. Share your gifts. Reflect on your gifts, talents, special abilities and how you can share them with others to make the world better. Everyone has something to offer if given with a spirit of helping. Where can your gifts and talents be best used and appreciated to help make things better for yourself and for others?
To avoid the destructive trajectory of post-election stress disorder we need to have an active coping plan that highlights best practices in stress and coping research and clinical practice. Caring for one’s body, mind, and soul though active, health enhancing, and productive problem solving methods with social support might the best way to proceed in these challenging times for so many.
And remember that while you can't control the behavior and attitudes of others you can certainly control your own.
So what do you think?
For an extended discussion of this topic from a recent interview at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, see here
Copyright 2017 Thomas G. Plante, PhD, ABPP.
Plante, T.G. (2004). Do the Right Thing: Living Ethically in an Unethical World. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.