As the divisive 2016 presidential election finally draws to a close, let’s all agree to breathe a collective sigh of relief as we bid farewell to the most hostile and vicious campaigning many of us have ever had the displeasure to experience. The constant negativity associated with this election cycle has permeated our homes, workplaces, neighborhoods and communities. It’s damaged marriages, families and friendships. I’ve witnessed its toxic effects on the clients I see in my practice. I’ve been deeply dismayed by the frustration, worry, outrage and hopelessness expressed by so many of the people I’ve come in contact with recently, both personally and professionally.
There are many reasons why the 2016 presidential contest will go down in history as the most stressful election of our lives to date. Aside from the pre-existing deep divide in the views of liberal and conservative Americans, the 24-hour news cycle, endless exposure to intrusive and disturbing commercials and constant derisive commentary on Facebook and other social media have kept most people stirred up to a fever pitch with little respite.
As both a psychologist and member of my community, I am gravely concerned about the adverse impact this election has had on people’s emotional well-being and relationships. The negative fall-out from conflicting political beliefs has caused serious distress within couples and families and threatened friendships, collegiality in the workplace and community cohesiveness. Campaign messages have highlighted threats and security issues, mistrust, economic decline, gender, racial and class divides, and narcissism and nastiness in people we are supposed to look up to as our leaders. Many voters have experienced intense feelings of anger, fear and discouragement compounded by the bitter arguments that have ensued among people who usually care about and respect one another.
So, how do we recover from Post-Election Traumatic Stress Disorder? First and foremost, avoid thinking the worst and expecting imminent catastrophe. The peaceful transition of power, which happens after every election, assures a comforting degree of stability. The constitution and three branches of government limit political power, so regardless of campaign promises, the wheels of government move ponderously, as every newly minted president with lofty predictions for the first 100 days has discovered the hard way. And if you don’t like who won, you can take some comfort in term limits. Whether your candidate was the winner or loser, it is a privilege to participate in a process that people have fought, sacrificed and died for. I hope you exercised your right to vote and that you wore your “I Voted” sticker with pride after you did so. If you are unhappy with the outcome of the presidential election, focus instead on state and local results and initiatives that went your way. Your vote DID matter. Limit your media consumption if watching or reading about politics and the election is disturbing to you. Exercise your power to change channels or push the “off button.” Refuse to participate in contentious political exchanges with friends, family, coworkers and neighbors, especially as the holidays approach. You can always step away, change the subject or simply state that it’s not something you want to talk about right now. Remember that nobody ever changed anyone else’s mind with a Facebook post so declare your wall a politics-free zone. Share good news, happy photos and cat videos to bring smiles to the faces of everyone who reads your posts. If someone puts something rancorous on your Facebook page, simply delete it. It’s your wall after all!
Political beliefs and voting choices are only a part of who we are. Now that the election is over, reconnect with those you care about who have disparate beliefs and voting habits by focusing on your similarities and shared joys instead of your differences. And remember, variety is the spice of life! Being married to or best friends with your clone would be awfully dull. Relax, be playful and enjoy activities that have absolutely nothing to do with politics. Watch a good movie or non-political comedy show so you can laugh together. Life goes on, and there is so much to celebrate, appreciate and look forward to, regardless of the outcome of this election.