According to the American Psychological Association, the majority of Americans of all political affiliations felt the run up to the elections were causing them significant stress. However, given how polarized the electorate has become, the results of the election are probably causing at least half the country just as much post-election anxiety about the immediate and long-term future.
But now that the election has been decided, what can people do to lower their post-election anxiety?
Regardless of its source, anxiety tends to operate in similar ways, which means there are clear things you can do to manage post-election anxiety:
1. Take Action: Anxiety is a diffuse feeling of dread and its lack of specificity makes it difficult to problem-solve as we might do in the case of worry (read 10 Crucial Differences between Anxiety and Worry here). However, what reduces anxiety is not necessarily the effectiveness of the actions we take but the fact that we are taking action in the first place. Since post-election anxiety is focused on the future (of the country as well as the world), we need to take action to influence that future in whatever small ways we can. For example, if you are concerned about race relations, find ways to become involved in organizations or foundations that advocate for the ideals and values that matter to you. If you are anxious about the economy, write to your elected officials (even if you did not vote for them) to express your concerns. Again, your anxiety will lessen not based on the impact you have but based on the fact that you are taking action.
2. Decatastrophize. The urgent feeling of dread anxiety creates tends makes us envision catastrophic outcomes that are many levels of inference away from the realities of the situation. Certainly it doesn’t help that in this election cycle both candidates evoked end of the world scenarios. Therefore, it is important to talk ourselves down and remind ourselves that our day-to-day lives are unlikely to change that drastically. Specifically, examine each of the activities you are doing today and ask yourself whether they will be different come January when Donald Trump enters the White House. You still go to school or work, do the recreational activities you do, socialize with friends, visit in-laws, and tuck your kids in at night. Thinking through each of the things you do on an average day and realizing none of them are likely to change will help lower your feeling of impending doom.
3. Don’t Succumb to Helplessness: Anxiety is a paralyzing feeling that can make us feel helpless and stuck. In part, it is this feeling of helplessness that contributes to ridiculously low turn-out in most mid-term elections. Yes, the next mid-term elections are two years away, and yes, we are all mentally and emotionally exhausted from this dramatic election cycle. But if you feel extremely upset about the results of highly anxious about the future, remind yourself you do not need to wait four years to have an impact on the future and direction of your State or of the country. I’m not suggesting you get active in the 2018 midterm elections now but I am suggesting that the mere act of deciding to do so and perhaps even getting information about how to contact the local chapter of your political party when the time comes, will make you feel less helpless and by definition, reduce your anxiety.
Sitting with emotional distress of any kind is neither wise nor necessary. If you feel upset, unsettled, and anxious—take action and make decisions that prioritize your emotional health and make you feel better.
Copyright 2016 Guy Winch