While this election season has stirred up an especially bitter brew of indignity and conflict, one common bond crossing the political and gender aisle is the election stress. The American Psychological Association just released a new survey indicating that more than half of American adults are either very or somewhat stressed by the 2016 election.
My colleagues and I have found our clients to be angrier and report more conflict at home, particularly after watching debates. In marriage counseling last week, one client said, “We bring up anything about about the election, and suddenly, we are fighting.” The negative political environment and extreme lack of human dignity is contagious, carrying into how we treat those closest to us. Add social media to the mix as a national conduit and we see emotions ablaze and fights erupting, even among those who otherwise share so much in common.
As we learn from ancient wisdom, the greater the challenge, the greater the light that can be revealed from it. These words from author, Karen Berg, remind us that just by choosing to face a challenge — regardless of whether we overcome — we can grow stronger, learn lessons, and receive clarity. When it comes to the challenging environment our country is facing, and for each of us in our own way, let’s talk about where we have power — to awaken the most light and compassion within and around us. Specifically, how we can keep ourselves mentally balanced and our relationships filled with as much harmony and love as we can.
- Explore Your Triggers - Listen within to the root fear, anger, injustice, insecurity or whatever is triggered by a political position you hear, or however anyone talks to or treats you. This awareness provides a rich opportunity to move from feeling victimized into finding your power. Our negative thoughts and painful feelings provide us with a valuable message for where we need to heal, to change - within us or around us. YOUR TRIGGER IS YOUR TREASURE.
- Talk to a Therapist - This election has made many people feel less safe. Certain election issues (i.e., sexual assault, national security, secrecy, fear of the unknown or the lack of boundaries) have gone so far as to trigger deep fears, anxieties, even buried painful memories. Don't expect yourself to handle these triggers alone. Seek support, particularly if your past trauma or sexual violence comes to the surface.
- Channel Your Concerns - Rather than focusing on all the negative possible scenarios, or judging the people in this process, use the power you have to take action towards something you believe in. Consider volunteering — anywhere you feel called to make a difference, not just in the political arena. We increase our inner peace and empowerment when we ourselves channel our beliefs into action.
- Invest in Self Care and Keep Perspective - When you notice yourself getting caught up in worry or anger, redirect and invest in all the areas of your life that are important to you. That is, your own health and personal happiness, your relationships and your career, your spiritual health and the person you would like to become. Avoid catastrophizing the outcome of this election. Control what you can in your life. Trust the process.
- Limit Your Social Media - Adults in the APA survey who reported being very or somewhat stressed by the election were more likely to be those engaging in social media. All the claims and counterclaims on the news feeds can really stir anxiety, along with the personal and tense dialogues that spin-off. Stay connected enough to keep informed and then unplug to spend quality time with your friends and family, and doing things you enjoy. Watching comedies on Netflix might be advised.
- Choose Unity - At the end of the day, a web of humanity connects us all. We all feel fear, want the best for our children, long for love and belonging, hurt and feel insecure and want to do the right thing. Through our interactions with others at every turn, and the choices we make with the blessings we have been given, we either add to the cauldron of negativity or serve as a force of kindness and respect that brings people together. Choose wisely.
- Resist the Urge to React - If your friend or partner triggers something in you, before reacting, PAUSE. Introspect. Journal. Meditate. Step aside from it. Remember that this is happening for you, not to you. Move from external to internal. Ask yourself questions like: ‘What just got triggered in me?’ ‘What am I thinking and feeling?’ ‘How can I respond in a way that is in line with who I want to become?’ Extra credit: Some even suggest to wait 3 days before deciding if and how to respond.
- Skirt Around Political Topics - Couples who normally don’t fight over politics are struggling this election because the gender gap between married couples is wider than ever before. Whether between romantic partners or friends, coworkers of passers-by, share your views, yes. But avoid discussions about the election that are likely to escalate to conflict. Focus on what you share in common.
- The Benefit of the Doubt - Oxford Dictionaries defines Benefit of the doubt as an acceptance that a person is truthful or innocent if the opposite cannot be proved. Before judging or jumping to conclusions, do your best to assume the good in the people close to and around you. This doesn’t mean glossing over that which does not match your personal truth. However, try listening before you push your views or seal your conclusion. Ask open-ended questions the next time you hear someone share a view that offends or surprises you. E.g., “Why is this so important to you?" or “Tell me more about why you believe that’s a good idea.”