If you’ve been feeling a little off-kilter for the past year or so, you’re not alone. “Post-election stress” has become a popular term, with 57 percent of Americans saying the current political climate is at least a somewhat significant source of stress, according to a poll from the American Psychological Association.
More people than ever are attributing heightened stress levels to reports of terrorism, police violence toward minorities, and fear for personal safety. According to the poll, the more educated you are, the worse the stress is, and city dwellers suffer more than those in suburbs and rural areas. People of all political persuasions are anxious, particularly about the future of the country. (Although Democrats may be more concerned than Republicans.)
While the current political climate might not necessarily be causing mental health issues, Jewish Family Service lead clinician Danica Bornstein says it’s certainly exacerbating them. “I’m seeing that anyone who was already struggling with something is struggling with it more,” she says. To help people cope, Bornstein is leading a support group called Navigating Turbulent Times, which explores of-the-moment stressors.
In an atmosphere where uncertainty, threats, and divisive tweets are the norm, tensions run high. “There are many policy changes on the table that have very real impact on people’s lives. Health care is one of them,” Bornstein says. “It is very distressing when people literally do not know if they will be able to continue to receive the medical care that sustains their lives.”
As the negative headlines just keep coming, it’s no wonder that these are challenging times, made all the more difficult by our constant connectivity.
“Access is a double-edged sword,” Bornstein says. “It’s much easier to get the information we need and connect with people who share our experiences, but the downside is that at some point, it can be really too much.”
Bornstein points to the events in Charlottesville as an example. While it’s important to know and understand what happened, immersing yourself in the news and scrolling through photo after photo can have the effect of immobilizing us — or pushing us in the opposite direction, where we bury our heads in the sand. “Shutting out the information may not be the life we want, but when it’s too much and leads to overwhelm and despair and not being able to take any action at all, it’s not necessarily serving us,” she says.
When Bornstein talks to people who are dealing with overwhelming political events, she likes to focus on the difference between coping strategies and resilience. Coping strategies help you manage and make you feel better for a little while — like going for a run or binge-watching nine hours of Netflix.
Resilience, on the other hand, is something you cultivate that makes you feel “more alive, more connected, more hopeful, and more able to engage in the world in a sustainable way,” as Bornstein puts it. But isn’t it easier to sink into the couch with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s?
“Think about what helps you feel recharged, connected, and hopeful, and make sure you’re doing those things,” she says. “If that’s cooking and having friends over for Shabbat dinner, do that. If it’s going and hanging out by the lake, do that.”
It can also be worth talking to someone about the way you’re feeling. “There’s a lot of fearfulness right now,” Bornstein says. “We don’t know what’s going to happen politically and economically, there have been a number of natural disasters, and what we really need is each other — a lot — right now.”