Diana B. Denholm, Ph.D, LMHC

Diana B. Denholm Ph.D, L.M.H.C.

The Caregiver's Handbook

Election Results Literally Making You Sick?

Powerful decisions provide 7 simple remedies.

Posted Dec 08, 2016

Depressed, angry, fearful, hating or hated, disconnecting or shunned, resentful or resented, condemning or chastised? Any of these apply to you? If so, you’re not alone. The aftermath of this presidential election has created a tsunami of negative emotions overwhelming many Americans. These emotions are likely the cause of headaches, colds, and digestive and blood pressure issues. The fact is that our emotions affect us physically. And, left unattended, years after this run-up subsides, we’ll likely see that the “rubble on the beach” consists of chronic and devastating medical conditions.  

As a medical psychotherapist and corporate stress management specialist, I look at most things from a mental health point of view. Whether your candidate won or lost, election fallout may be strongly affecting you. You may be on the giving or on the receiving end of that fallout. Friendships are ending, grandparents are being prohibited from seeing grandchildren, holiday plans are being canceled…all because of the way someone voted.

Remedies come from making simple but challenging decisions

While we may be powerless over people, places and things, we are not powerless over ourselves. We can all make choices as to what we’ll subject, and not subject, ourselves. You get to decide if it’s worth risking your health to stay in a detrimental emotional mode. You can consider whether you want to risk ending up with a serious illness a couple of years down the road by perseverating now on something over which you likely have no control. You can decide whether to continue to indulge yourself in unhealthy behaviors just to prove you're “right”, or in order to please someone else. Below are specific remedies to consider.

1. Stop poking your bear. People who seem to be suffering the most are those who immerse themselves in every article, blog, TV program, conversation and activity referencing the election results and aftermath. Even though depressed, fearful, angry, hurt or rejected, voters on both sides continue to drown themselves in what depresses, frightens, angers, hurts or makes them feel rejected. Some may even experience a high from the adrenaline they release with all of their angst, thus gaining a certain level of pleasure from it. Dr. Andrew Weil long ago recommended “news fasts”, and this seems one of those times when it’s well advised. Although simple to do, resistance to fasting from news, conversations or other related activities is exceptionally strong. That’s because many feel a sense of control over situations by garnering more and more information, or garnering more people to their belief group. So the choice is whether or not to give up that false sense of control, and/or adrenaline high, in order to have control of your own well-being.

2. Stop trying to make others wrong. It isn’t necessary. You don’t have to make somebody else wrong for you to be right. Rather than wasting your time and energy trying, you can use that energy for something more enjoyable. Likely those on each side of the vote have a list of damming attributes about the other candidate(s) which made it impossible to support them. In trying to make someone wrong, you open yourself to the barrage of items on those lists; just further frustrating yourself while falling into an unhealthy defensive posture. Pursuing this unnecessary and unobtainable goal of “rightness” can result in you being “dead right.”

3. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. We know that friendships and family sustain us and allow us to thrive. You certainly can reject these people’s views and beliefs. But you don’t have to reject these people in the process. You can recognize that cutting ourselves off from significant friends/family can be harmful to you, first emotionally and, then, physically. Particularly with long-standing and deep friendships, you can decide which is more important — your political views or your emotional and physical health. Hard as it may be because of a desire to be “right”, agreeing to disagree can provide the healthiest outcome.

4. Don’t engage. Just because someone wants you to share your view, it doesn’t mean you have to do it. We have secret balloting in this country for a reason. Using some communication tools I describe below, you can respectfully remove yourself from such discussions. Because some are unhappy with your view, they may want to “understand” it. But that may be an entree to make you defend your view. It is not your job to make others happy or comfortable with your vote. You get to decide not to engage in discussions that could jeopardize your own well-being.

5. Respect others. Even though the Golden Rule seems to benefit others, it benefits you most of all. Ultimately what you do to others will come back around. Ironically, often a person who is angry with another spends his day being miserable, while the object of the anger goes happily along with no awareness of a problem. It is perfectly acceptable to make the decision to be respectful of others just because it’s good for you. It’s a healthy win-win.

 6. Celebrate your holidays. If you normally enjoy celebrating holidays, then by all means don’t let your depression or others’ reactions to you stop the celebrations. If you’re depressed and don’t feel in the mood for holiday preparation, realize that doing it anyway will likely put you in the mood. If some refuse to spend a holiday with you because of your vote, celebrate the best you can with others. You can decide to stop feeding your depression and encourage inclusiveness rather than contributing to unhealthy separation and divisiveness in the country.

7. Use anti-stress and communication tools. You already know common stress-management activities: exercise, eat correctly, and participate in pastimes you enjoy; so this is just a reminder. Anger can be released in a healthy way by imagining hitting a boulder with a sledge hammer while mentally saying all the things you really would love to say, but might get in trouble if you did. Getting your anger out by writing is a tool you probably already use. However, it’s important with both the boulder activity and the writing that you do not re-load the issues when you’re done by “poking your bear”.

When communicating, use “I” statements, so you do not express assumptions about others. Use “I realize…however” statements. For example: “I realize you believe X, however, I prefer not to discuss that. Or variations like: “Thank you for asking my opinion, however, I’d rather talk about something else” or “I respect that you voted as you did, however, I choose not to discuss my vote." You’ll have a healthier outcome if you avoid getting cornered into adversarial conversations.

As you review these 7 remedies, you may find yourself thinking: “Why would I bother?” Certainly it isn’t to please anyone else or to vacate any of your views or feelings. The answer is that each remedy stands to improve your emotional well-being and have a positive impact on you physically for years to come. The choice is yours.