The days post-election were some of the most overwhelming we encountered in 2020—and that's saying something. Courtesy of a three-day election cliffhanger, many Americans reported via social media feelings of turmoil and confusion, along with an endless list of emotional distress. Now, a few days into 2021, we're dealing with even more stress, fear, and heartbreak.
Wondering who would hold the seat in the White House and very literally change the course of our lives has left us fatigued. Luckily, on November 9, Joe Biden was named the President-elect of the United States. But here we are, nearly two months later, still glued to our television screens—watching poll results roll in, as well as watching the U.S. capitol flood with a violent mob (let's call them what they are: white supremacists). Naturally, we can't say that feeling of fatigue has subsided.
According to health experts, it is completely normal to feel exhausted after such a highly intense moment. "The election has fueled political mayhem, civil unrest, and partisan discord—this ever-changing poll confirms our nerves," shares Anita Kanti, Certified Life Coach.
The Los Angeles based author of Behaving Bravely continues, "According to recent research in the Psychiatric Times, anxiety led most Americans to feel uncertain in this year’s election. Add a tumultuous pandemic on top of mental stress and there’s no question we could all use an intervention right about now."
The reality of this election breaks down like this: nearly half of the U.S. is feeling discord that their presidential nominee didn’t win. The half to come out victorious is feeling uneasy that it was such a close race to call in the first place (plus, there's the recounts and Trump's lawsuits). There are, however, several ways to deal with post-election trauma.
Ahead, we spoke to trusted health and wellness professionals to receive much-needed advice on coping with "post-election stress disorder."
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Sanam Hafeez: Neuropsychologist, faculty member at Columbia University, and Byrdie's Beauty and Wellness Board member
- Dr. Annette Nuñez: LMFT, PhD.
- Dr. Patrick Porter: Neuroscience expert and creator of BrainTap®
- Perri Shaw Borish: Psychotherapist and founder of Whole Heart Maternal Mental Health
- Aneesh Chaudhry: Brain health expert and founder of the SoulPhysio Foundation
- Anita Kanti: Certified life coach and author of Behaving Bravely
- Kama Hagar: Certified holistic wellness coach
- Jessica Schatz: Integrative wellness coach
A Plan of Action
Find Acceptance To Unlock Your Inner Peace
It is understandable for you to feel discouraged." However, Hagar suggests you find acceptance sooner than later to help ease your mind.
"The world is chaotic right now.” says Hagar. "Acceptance brings a kind of clarity that is unmatched by anything else. Once we accept what is happening, we can make the most authentic and effective decisions. We can lead with truth, love, and empathy. Acceptance accomplished is peace. Choose peace."
It is an empowering skill to be able to share your feelings and to know when to ask for help.
Find Simple Self-Care Strategies to Decompress
To decompress, it is important to incorporate self-care strategies into your daily routine. According to Dr. Nuñez, the simplest way to do this is by "taking five to ten minutes out of your day to walk outside and enjoy the sights and sounds. Also, try listening to calming music and doing breathing exercises."
Understand and Limit Your Daily Stressors
With so much going on, you can easily get your wires crossed with what’s really stressing you out. For example, small quirks in your friends and family can seem to be magnified. This is completely understandable with the amount of nail-biting we’ve been doing over the last few days. To combat this, Hagar suggests identifying a list of things that stress you out and limit their exposure.
"If you find the morning emails or turning on the news puts you over the edge, replace that routine with a mini-meditation on Insight Timer before diving in head-on," she says. "If you find yourself checking social media relentlessly, set time limits via the app's settings. You can even mute or unfollow people in your life who's opinions and rants don't serve your mental health. If your job allows, don’t book meetings during your most stressful times of the day."
She reminds us, "Some stressors may surprise you, like subtle anxiety about cooking dinner, while others may be more obvious, like the news. It doesn't matter if these items stress other people out or are unique to you—your peace of mind is not anyone else's."
Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up and Seek Professional Help
Feelings of judgment and may leave you squeamish when it comes to sharing your emotions, but it is crucial not to bottle up your thoughts and opinions.
"Make it a priority to take a personal inventory of your feelings," Kanti says. "This releases pent up emotions and helps you to understand your specific triggers. Being comfortable with expressing your emotions helps strengthen your relationships. It is an empowering skill to be able to share your feelings and to know when to ask for help."
Having a supportive “A-Team” is imperative. Now is the time to lean on family, friends, and loved ones.
If you are concerned about sharing with someone close to you, Dr. Nuñez suggests seeking help from a professional. "If feelings of stress and anxiety last over two weeks, make an appointment to see a mental health professional to help you with coping strategies."
Be Mindful and Stay Focused on What You Can Control
It can be far too easy to let your mind get away from you when you're experiencing anxiety, but being mindful can help wonders in getting back on track. The term mindfulness has gained popularity over the years for its stoic practice of focusing one's awareness on the present moment. "Mindfulness activities like meditation, deep breathing exercises, and yoga—especially when you feel heated—helps you to de-stress and relax by distracting your mind," says Schatz.
By focusing on the present and being aware of how you feel in the moment, we influence brain activity in regions that are involved in reducing stress and increasing the parasympathetic response.
She continues, "By focusing on the present and being aware of how you feel in the moment, we influence brain activity in regions that are involved in reducing stress and increasing the parasympathetic response. This eases anxiety and improves your mood. Basically, it’s nearly impossible to be relaxed and stressed at the same time."
Most of our experts agree that mindfulness is the key to finding peace in self. Dr. Porter adds, "Be more mindful of your emotions. Actively observe your thoughts and feelings. By doing this, you can better understand where the stress is coming from so you can manage it more effectively." And for those who feel the need to keep control of their everyday reality, Borish offers advice to create "a safe and calming environment in a room or someplace in your home that makes you feel comforted."
Use the Activities You Love to Soothe Yourself
"When it comes to physical disarray, we don't hesitate to take care of ourselves. For example, if you had a migraine, you lie down. However, what about when you're in emotional turmoil? The same way you'd care for an injury or an illness, do that for your mind and heart," Hagar shares with us.
The same way you'd care for an injury or an illness, do that for your mind and heart.
Think about it: why wouldn’t the remedy for soothing mental and emotional health be doing the things you love? Whether you find solace in meditating in nature or baking a cake—do that! Indulge in what you love to make your heart more joyful.
Dedicate Time to Focus on Your Body
"People often underestimate the connection between physical health and emotional wellbeing. What you eat, what you drink, how much you exercise—it all plays a major role in emotional and mental health," says Chaudhry. We couldn’t agree more and offer more advice on this topic here.
Besides eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and drinking water, consider going for a run—especially in nature. "Exercise is vital for a healthy lifestyle," Schatz reveals. "Regular working out prevents health problems, builds strength, increases energy, reduces stress, and helps you maintain healthy body weight. And nature offers one of the most reliable boosts to your mental and physical well-being."
She insists, "humans are not meant to be cooped up inside all day! Spending time in nature makes you happier, fortifies your immune system, lowers blood pressure, improves mental clarity, and stirs your creativity."
This makes taking outdoor fitness breaks from our at-home desks far more appealing.
Create and Maintain an Easy to Manage Schedule
Having an unorganized schedule in conjunction with all that’s going on can easily cause haywire in your everyday life. This is why Dr. Nuñez says, "with the world feeling so unpredictable, it is important to make your day more predictable by creating a schedule. Create a daily schedule and stick to it."
As a professional therapist in hopes to make your life less stressful, Borish suggests creating a daily routine that's easy to maintain. "Go to bed and wake up at a normal time," she shares. She later implores, "Eat as healthy as possible, drink water, exercise, and get plenty of sleep."
Make Sleep a Priority
Our bodies need time to recuperate after days of sleepless nights if we want to have the mental capacity to manage post-election stress and anxiety. Dr. Porter urges we should all "make sleep a priority."
The neuroscience expert and creator of BrainTap explains, "our bodies and brains repair themselves during our sleep cycles. When the quality or quantity of our sleep is poor, we miss out on the restoration process."
Never Second-Guess Setting Healthy Boundaries for Yourself
You should never feel the pressure to indulge in political conversation if you find it elevating your stress level. Whether you decide to cut off your social media consumption or discontinue debates with peers, know that this is your personal right.
Borish advocates that "this is a time to set boundaries with anyone and anything in your life that is toxic to you. Whether it’s toxic people or toxic news, make a conscious effort to not be emotionally attached to anyone/anything that is not serving you good energy."
Rethink Social Media, If You Didn't Ditch It Altogether
Let’s be honest: social media can seem like the gatekeeper to a world filled with anxiety, especially nowadays. A constant connection to negative news and information can boost anyone’s anxiety.
While some professionals propose staying off social media altogether, Kanti knows that it’s not always that simple when you have family and friends you want to stay connected to. Instead, the life coach offers the suggestion of balancing out your news timeline with funny memes. "Laughter can put things in perspective, diffuse tension, and activate your stress response," she explains. "So, boost your immune system with a good joke in between the latest election updates."
For those that are adamant about taking a break from online communities, Schatz’s advice is to replace scrolling with something nourishing. Some things to try according to the wellness coach includes, "reading a book, listening to music, eating something healthy, and talking to someone you love about topics other than the election.”
"Invest in self-care instead of being glued to your devices," she recommends. And if you must get on the internet, "consider actually setting a timer and giving yourself a time limit for how much social media you consume."
Post-Election Stress Disorder and Moving Forward
We caught up with Byrdie Beauty and Wellness Board member Dr. Sanam Hafeez, who coined the term "post-election stress disorder" after the 2016 election to hopefully get some insight on the duration of this year’s election aftershock.
Using the previous election as her guide for human behavior, Dr. Hafeez predicts that although it doesn’t seem like it, Americans will be able to cope better in 2020 because they’ve lived through a similarly high-stress experience four years ago.
She explains, "PTSD refers to a brand new experience, change in your life or circumstance. At least half of American’s experienced this same feeling four years ago, so we're designed to handle it better. We're more equipped to deal with it."
At least half of American’s experienced this same feeling four years ago, so we're designed to handle it better.
Unlike the last election when people talked about the results for months, Dr. Hafeez believes people are more inclined to want to seek normalcy sooner than later. "This time around, I think there's going to be resignation. People will want to go about their business within a couple of weeks."
The neuropsychologist reasons that the compiling of mental and emotional baggage caused by the pandemic, civil unrest, and disparities make it harder for people to focus on one frustration at a time.
"If you've got three or four problems on top of each other, then you don't have time to dedicate to one specific problem. Your pain is widespread," she reveals. "The election is not the only thing on our minds. People are literally fighting for their lives. We've got unemployment and financial hardship, like never before in this country. We've got just so many looming crises that most people just want relief."
Thankfully, Dr. Hafeez says that there is light at the end of the tunnel. "Being hopeful is part of our genetics as human beings," she says. "In America, we are always looking for a happy ending."
For those in need of additional moral support, we suggest checking out Psychguides.com. The website offers a comprehensive list of helpful hotlines to assist you in navigating your emotions, including the Crisis Textline. To be connected to a trained counselor, text: CONNECT to 741741.