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Post-Election Stress, COVID, and Holiday Blues

Photo by Engin Akyurt

I am hearing from many clients that this election has caused more anxiety, stress, and familial or interpersonal conflicts than nearly any other election they have lived through. The tensions that have been building over the past year seem to have reached peak levels this year with protests emerging across the country for a variety of reasons--concerns about corruption, voter fraud/voter suppression, economic inequality, increased corporate power, censorship, and continued racial oppression. Add a pandemic into the mix and it becomes even more challenging to calmly navigate these times, think clearly, and sort through the confusion.

In sessions with clients, I often try to assist my clients in sorting through and trying to understand what are their own authentic thoughts, values, identity, and emotions and what has been forced upon them through culture, parents, society, peers, media, and other forms of influence or conditioning. Even though it takes courage to do this, I believe it can create a more meaningful life. We can arrive at a more grounded, stable position and state of being when we try to commit to this task in our daily life. Though, it is no easy task.

In order to understand ourselves, we also have to understand the world we live in. Increasingly, our media has become more and more polarizing as individuals on both sides of the political spectrum receive an entirely different set of facts, narratives, and perspectives. This has a harmful impact on one’s sense of identity, understanding of the world, relationship to others, and is transforming societal norms. Families, friends, and communities have been torn apart by our increased intolerance of other views, stereotyping, and the media's constant appeal to emotions (often fear or anger), which has been magnified by a phenomenon known as filter bubbles. Within social media, internet news media sources, video sharing sites, and other information-sharing platforms all incorporate filter bubbles.

Photo by Kayla Velasquez

Filter bubbles use algorithms to send the consumer/user specific information based upon past searchers and preferences. This not only restricts the information each person has access to by automatically edited results, but it also controls what you see, watch, and read and what you don’t. The impact of filter bubbles is that each person becomes more and more embedded in a feedback loop that supports their own preferences, prejudices, and opinions. These filter bubbles magnify a naturally-occurring psychological phenomenon known as the confirmation bias, which reflects an individual’s tendency to search for, interpret, prefer, and recall information that support’s his or her pre-existing values or beliefs. In other words, as a result of current widespread technologies, the trend is that the majority of us are becoming less aware of truly new or different information or opinions. Because of this, our understanding of the world becomes more limited and our tolerance of other perspectives diminishes, as well as our ability to listen and empathize with others.

Then, there is the impact of the pandemic— widespread fear, stress, and anxiety related to infection, but also social isolation, economic uncertainty, job loss, and lack of support system. These influences make it more difficult to maintain healthy, supportive relationships or connections, which helps boost mental and physical health. However, if we can shift our mindset into a spiritual warrior mindset and view this situation as a challenge or opportunity to develop mental and emotional strength, this can help support our internal strength and resiliency. One aspect of stress is that stress becomes either good or bad stress depending upon the degree of control you feel within the situation, how you perceive the stress, and one’s sense of autonomy.

To cultivate resiliency and greater self-empowerment identify areas of life both within and outside your control. Make a list of goals and break these goals into small steps you can take on a daily basis to move towards these goals. Identify hobbies, interests, or projects you would like to complete. Create routine and structure in your daily life, especially if working from home or doing online school, in order to set clear boundaries between personal goals or self-care and work responsibilities. This can be especially challenging at times with the internet and constant connectivity. Limit the hours you check messages, limit time spent on social media, as well as your news intake.

In terms of navigating relationships, try to create clear boundaries with family members or significant others, setting aside time for yourself or refusing to engage in conflict. If you find yourself in an abusive situation, reach out to local crisis line through 1 (844) 493-8255, the national domestic violence hotline at 1(800) 799-7233, or call 911. If you are afraid, suffering from verbal, emotional, or physical abuse, there is help and resources out there to help you get into a safer living environment. Signs that you are in an abusive situation include the abuser denying or minimizing abuse, objectifying those around him or her and treating people like property, constantly blaming others, jealousy, possessiveness, a bad temper, verbal abuse, controlling attitude, and demeaning the victim privately or publicly.

If you don’t feel that you are in an abusive or unsafe living environment, but find yourself constantly triggered or drawn into conflict with family or friends due to their political views, here are some additional tips. Remember that there are powerful financial forces that are intentionally creating political polarization for their own benefit. Remember, your friend or family member is upset, because they want to do good and care about the state of the world. Try to find common ground and common values. When we let the media, news, and high-profile political figures and organizations steer the conversation, they get to control what we look at, talk about, and when. Argue your side calmly without using personal attacks or falling into cognitive distortions, such as black and white thinking, catastrophic thinking, us versus them, or good versus evil thinking. This is a common psychological weakness that many propaganda experts appeal to within us.

Being able to remain open and cope with ambiguity is a sign of intelligence, emotional maturity, and is a very powerful stance. Try to have compassion for the other (remember their humaneness). Validate the other person’s side and then respectfully bring in outside information. This is a tactic that can be very helpful in breaking down cult programming. The less we identify with group think, a political party, ideology, or religious identity, the more we are able to think critically, revise and discard unhealthy views, and remain in a state of a beginner’s mind being open to new information. It also helps us continually test and revise our own inner values ensuring we do not compromise our values and resort to the philosophy of the end justifies the means, which ultimately perpetuates the cycle of violence. Also, remember the media makes more money the more they can create an emotional state of fear or anger, so this is not necessarily a good thing for us collectively.

If you find yourself embroiled in conflict with someone in your life, ask yourself these questions. When have I felt this way before? What part of myself feels vulnerable, scared, or under attack? Will I care or remember this particular moment on my death bed or is this insignificant in the grand trajectory of my life? If so, maybe it’s important and calling for you to be more vocal or take creative action. If not, perhaps it’s worth letting go. Find allies that understand your unique views and feelings, but also try to listen to the other side. What is their reason for believing or feeling the way they do. What are their unique struggles or fears? Seek out moderates on both sides of the political spectrum and engage in open dialogue. The ideals of our country is founded upon an open and free dialogue of different ideas, beliefs, and ways of living. It is up to us determine what issues are important to us, not the media or the government. Movements and change almost always start from the bottom up not top down. Remember that you have more power than you think and engaging with your community whether online or in-person helps reduce alienation, isolation, and feelings of powerlessness. In any crisis, there is an opportunity for learning, growth, and the ability to connect to what's most important in life.

Photo by Chi Lok Tsang

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