Election Anxiety

The unusual USA presidential election season is having an impact on people around the world. It is increasing anxiety for people both in the USA as well as in other countries. It is a major topic of conversation. People inside and outside the USA, especially where I have been traveling Latin America, wonder if we have lost our collective mind. And the answer is, yes.

Anxiety comes about when there is an uncertain outcome. In past elections, where there might have been big political differences, there was a similarity in how the political system was viewed and used. In this election season, all of the previously accepted norms seem to have been tossed out the window. No one, especially on the Republican side, has any idea what is going to happen. Someone has taken the deck of 52 cards and two Jokers and tossed it into the air; where the cards will land is anyone’s guess.

So how is this public brawl impacting people?

It is similar to a slow motion train wreck. Everyone knows it is going to be ugly but, they can’t take their eyes off of it. Frozen in horror and fascination at the same time.

But it increases anxiety. Watching a 90-minute horror movie will increase your anxiety, but you know it is going to end, so the end does not really matter. Neither of those applies in the election of the President of the United States. We will have to live with the consequences. As a result, people are acting strangely. Even for a political season, there is a great deal of candidate-bashing and extreme positions taken by seemingly intelligent people in private/public conversations on Facebook. Friends are being unFriended. Families are battling. All over what *might* happen. It has certainly brought into the open the undertow of frustration about the deadlock in our political and government life.

Now that the 'genie’ has been let out of the bottle, is it possible to put it back? Can we or do we want to return to being a civil society? Time will tell.

What I believe will happen as a consequence is:

-An increased number of marriages and divorces: People may either leave unhappy marriages or leaving isolation to choose marriage, both in an attempt to increase their sense of safety or control. “I don’t have to do this or face this alone”. Or “I am better off dealing with this alone”.

-An increase in suicides/attempts: People who are suicidal are in a great deal of internal pain. Our nation is now reflecting it shared pain externally and that can push some people over the edge to suicide, because there will be no relief or sanctuary from the pain inside; if they turn on the TV or internet, it's still there. And as relationships are strained by the continued conflict about people’s beliefs and ideals, it can also increase the isolation of people that are already feeling isolated.

-Family/Friendship Fractures: Religion and politics are two of the most divisive things that people can talk about. This election season has tons of both. So families and friends across the spectrum who have managed to have a ‘don’t ask/don’t tell’ relationship about areas of strong disagreement will often find the pressure of the current environment too much to keep silent. Just as there is clearly a political realignment in our country going on, I believe this will speed up personal and family realignments as well.

What can you do about it?

Reduce your time spent on reading about and watching the election. After 9/11 people watched video of the twin towers come down, again and again and thus were even more traumatized than they needed to be. Take your eyes off the train wreck. Whether you watch or not, it is going to happen. Less is more: more perspective, less trauma from watching all the silliness of the season.

Spent time reading largely neutral websites (not TV) that use fact checking to help keep a sense of reality about what is real and not. I would suggest, CNN, Politico and the BBC for example.

Do some good: Volunteer, make a donation to an animal shelter or the food bank, do something that is contributing to making this a better world.

The upside of all of this is that when the truth is told and pain exposed, even if it is ugly, there is the potential for healing. Until we face our truths and pain we cannot begin to examine the truths and heal the pain.

The downside is the loss of relationships that is inevitable in this conflictual process. Perhaps they were not healthy relationships to begin with, and people were holding on to them for the wrong reason. There is an opportunity to be freer and healthier with people who are more aligned with who they are.

So the imagined consequences of today's increased anxiety may be real, but hopefully healing and growth will still be a positive result of this unusual season.