Are You Suffering From “Post-Election Stress Disorder?” Healing From Anxieties Induced by Our Current Political Climate

Stress and anxiety before elections have soared in recent years, with social and political turmoil taking a toll on mental health. In 2020, post-election stress has become a larger issue than ever before. The uncertainty, combined with racial unrest and COVID-19, is triggering symptoms in most adults. Take time to address mental health and heal from post-election stress. This period of time does not have to overwhelm your life, but if these steps do not bring any relief, seek professional mental health care.

Regardless of how you voted, or if you voted, the 2020 elections likely triggered anxiety, stress, and other negative mental health symptoms. According to a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), in the weeks leading up to the election, it caused a significant amount of stress in a majority of adults. The numbers were even higher than before the 2016 election.

Now that Election Day has come and gone, many people still struggle with anxiety, worry, and stress. Experts suggest the finalization of elections will take weeks or months. That doesn’t mean you have to live with this post-election stress. Take steps to relax, cope with anxiety, manage stress, and heal.

Is Post-Election Stress Disorder Real?

In official diagnostic terms, no. However, the phrase PESD has certainly come to mean something to many people, including mental health professionals. The term first came into popular usage in 2016, after the surprising presidential result.

At that time, therapists and other mental health professionals reported increases in appointments and a wave of mostly Democratic-voting patients reporting stress, anxiety, anger, and depression. In 2020, according to the APA survey, it isn’t just one side of the political aisle. People from all walks of life are feeling the stress of the election.

The APA conducted another survey for the 2016 election, this time after the fact in January 2017. It showed that Democrats experienced more mental health symptoms, but that Republicans also struggled. In 2020, the same phenomenon is occurring but probably to a greater degree.

How Does the Post-Election Period Impact Mental Health?

PESD may not be an official diagnosis, but the uncertainty, worry, and fear surrounding the post-election period does cause a variety of mental health symptoms. Uncertainty and stress over the future of politics and the nation rank high as causes of symptoms. Also at issue is the fact that it is difficult to get away from politics right now.

While everyone reacts a little differently, some signs and symptoms are common right now:

  • Physical tension and stress, like tight shoulders, headaches, and gastrointestinal stress
  • Insomnia and other sleep issues
  • Fear and hypervigilance
  • Anxiety and worry
  • Depression
  • Obsession with the news and updates on social media
  • Angry outbursts
  • Withdrawal and social isolation

How to Cope Post-Election

This post-election period is causing stress in more people than not, so take some comfort in knowing you are not alone. Then take these steps to manage and reduce that stress so you can heal and take back your life.

1. Reflect on the Big Picture.

Many of the best strategies for coping with stress involve distraction or avoidance of stressors. Unfortunately, the factors causing so much stress now are not avoidable. They are a part of your world. There is a time for distraction, but first take time to reflect on what is causing your negative emotions.

As you reflect on this, consider perspective. Look at the big picture of post-election results. Did everything go badly from your point of view, or were there some wins? Will life stay like this forever, or is there hope? The state of politics now seems terrible, but nothing is permanent. Things will change.

2. Focus on What You Can Actually Control.

You can be a part of how things change, but realize that your impact is limited. You did your part by voting, but the rest of the process and the outcome are out of your control. This feeling of lack of control is a big trigger for post-election stress. If you can focus instead on the things you can control, you’ll feel better.

This means focusing on your own wellness and health and that of your loved ones. While you cannot control what is happening in politics at the highest levels, every individual can make a smaller impact. If racial unrest has been a special source of stress for you, for instance, volunteer with advocacy groups in your community. Donate to a food bank if you are worried about poverty and families struggling because of COVID-19.

3. Avoid News and Media.

It’s likely that a big part of the elevated stress created by elections in recent years is the constant availability of news updates. There is no point in burying your head in the sand, but you also do not need to watch and wait constantly.

Set aside certain times of the day for checking in on the news. Do the same for social media check-ins. If you’re really struggling, avoid social media entirely. Sites like Facebook have already been shown in research to elevate stress, and the effect is worse now than ever.

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4. But Stay Connected Socially.

During lockdowns forced by the coronavirus pandemic, staying connected with others has become a challenge. While many people turn to social media to stay in touch, the same sites cause more stress and anxiety.

It can be a dilemma, but it is also possible to find outer ways to connect. Social connection is so important for good mental health. If you can spend time with people in-person and safely, do so. If not, make a phone call to a friend or family member at least on a daily basis.

5. Find Distractions.

It’s hard to stress over the outcome of the election when your mind is engaged in something else. Distractions can be powerful in managing stress for just this reason. This strategy worked well for many during the early days of the pandemic when so much uncertainty felt overwhelming. Many people found new hobbies, organized their closets, or delved into work projects.

You can do the same now and reap the mental health benefits. Especially during those times when you can’t seem to turn your brain off to thoughts about the election and its outcome, find something else to do: exercise outside with an audiobook, do a deep clean of the house, learn a new skill, or play a virtual game with friends.

6. Get Active and Get Fresh Air.

Exercise is a major source of stress relief. Stress is not just an emotional state—it affects the body too. When you get regular exercise, your body responds by relaxing. In turn, your mind also relaxes and lets go of stress and anxiety to some degree.

Make a point to get exercise every day and do it outside as much as possible. If you can go for a walk with friends, that’s even better. The combination of socializing, exercising, and getting fresh air will be hugely beneficial to mental health.

7. Set Boundaries.

During this terribly divided time, many people struggle because of divisions within their own families and friend groups. Some people are able to set aside differences and continue to interact peacefully, while others argue or express resentment and cause more stress.

Set boundaries with loved ones, at least for now. If you simply can’t be around your mom who voted differently from you, avoid her until you have your mental health under control. This isn’t easy to do, but it’s important to prioritize your wellness now and work on rebuilding relationships when you are in a better place mentally and emotionally.

8. Try Therapy.

All of these steps can be so useful in managing post-election stress, but they may not be enough. If you continue to struggle, see a mental health professional. It’s possible that you have developed an anxiety disorder or depression and could benefit from treatment. Even without a diagnosis, therapy sessions will help you learn how to cope and manage negative emotions.

Keep in mind that everyone is in this difficult situation together. As you battle the stress, anxiety, and fear associated with our current state of politics, remember that you are not alone. Take steps to manage your own mental health, to do what you can to make a positive impact in your community, and to connect in healthy ways with friends and family.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, and other mental health issues. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles program and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.