Therapists Are Reporting More Patients Stressed About The Election Than Ever — Here's How To Cope
A recent Reuters report found several therapists across the country experiencing previously unheard of increase stress levels about the election cycle among their patients. This year's election feels more volatile than most, for obvious reasons. Each party nominated historical candidates, for starters — democrats put the first female candidate on a major party ticket and republicans nominated the first candidate in the modern era with no previous political experience. Not only are these candidates' ideologies diametrically opposed, but their voter bases are also deeply emotional about their strongly-held beliefs. And while the Reuters report came out before Donald Trump's leaked remarks, bragging about his ability to sexually assault women with impunity, were released, it's undeniable that the fallout from those tapes has been exhausting, at best, and triggering, at worst, for survivors of sexual assault.
Add to the mix that social media makes it possible for every insufferable relative you have — previously relegated to forced holiday interaction only — to spew their political views into your feed, and it's no surprise that folks are feeling more frayed than ever about this election cycle.
"As a general rule people don't like ambiguity, and people aren't really sure what kind of global effects these administrations headed by two unpopular candidates might have," Psychologist Dr. Erika Martinez tells Bustle.
According to the Reuters interviews, therapists were reporting anxiety, sleep difficulty, irritability, and heart palpitations on the rise among their patients due to election news cycle stress. These symptoms are atypical for an election, but scientific program chair of the American Psychiatric Association Philip Muskin noted that these responses also played out around other traumatic national events like the September 11 attacks, "where, for everybody, the sense of control is gone." In this case, the loss of control isn't tied to a destabilizing act of violence, but rather to the fact that two candidates with huge unfavorability numbers are leading the nation's major parties. The perception that both choices are bad and the lack of a real outlet for change can leave people feeling stuck and doomed.
Conventional wisdom (plus a few of the therapists interviewed in the report) suggest that, when we feel overwhelmed by a depressing news cycle, an exhausting day battling in the comment trenches, or a particularly hurtful soundbite, we take a break from media. But it can be difficult to unplug when being informed often feels like the best safeguard against attack. So how do we juggle learning about the issues, ensuring our voices are heard, and practicing good self-care? Here's what two psychologists suggest:
1. Moderation Is Achievable!
It's so tempting — especially during this particular election season, which happens to be playing out like the worst reality show train wreck of all time — to flip on a cable news network and let it play in the background while you cook dinner or clean your apartment to try and absorb some of the latest election coverage. But both of experts advisee strongly against this kind of "passive" news consumption.
"Those individuals that are feeling particularly affected by this political season are best advised to moderately and consciously consume media, not completely avoid it," Dr. Martinez says. "Also, the advent of the internet is that we have information at our fingertips. Rather than passively listening to or reading what shows up on [your] newsfeed, etc., I recommend setting some time aside to do your own research into candidates on trusted websites."
Dr. Gregory Kushnick, psychologist and founder of lifestyle how-to guide Techealthiest.com, tells Bustle, "Unplugging can be highly effective as long as you don't pride yourself on knowing every new development in the election...For example, you can go on YouTube and watch a short video about something important that occurred, as opposed to passively receiving large chunks of election news and updates."
2. Social Media Is Not Always The Best Place To Feel Heard
Social media is a tempting space in which to seek out validation. But when it comes to political action, actual action can feel more productive than engaging in discourse online."This election experience highlights the importance of balancing being heard with being happy," Dr. Kushnick says. "We must realize that using social media as a platform to be heard is likely to drastically harm your mood. Your Facebook feed cannot be the election battlefield. The best way to channel a powerful desire to have your opinions about the elections heard is to find an outlet that doesn't involve a posting war. Channel your need to have your opinions heard into productive advocacy with like-minded voters."
3. Engage the Trolls — Cautiously
Obviously, it's important to take care of yourself when you're feeling burnt out and emotionally depleted from engaging with an onslaught of hateful trolls. But some of the internet's most outspoken women are turning the tables on conventional wisdom, which dictates that we simply "ignore" bullies. Activists like Lindy West, Ijeoma Oluo, and even comedian Leslie Jones routinely screenshot misogynistic and racist messages intended to bully, disparage, and intimidate them, and post them for the world to see, putting those trolls on blast in the process.
"Conversation, information, and education are always the best forces to combat any form of discrimination," Dr. Martinez says. "Women feeling the brunt of misogynistic messages can engage in conversation with those persons putting forth the messages in question. Sometimes men (and even other women) don't realize that something comes across as offensive, and an enlightening conversation with them can make him (or her) reconsider."
While it's unlikely that you'll change the hearts and minds of every Twitter egg in your mentions, it's possible to affect change in people simply by having a personal conversation with them that humanizes you — and the issues you care about — as a real person.
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