Experiencing Post Election Traumatic Stress? You are not alone!

November 6, 2020

Post Election Traumatic Stress (PETS) compares to PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), but since it is pervasive and a normal response rather than a “disorder” I leave the D off. One could debate if it is comparable to PTSD as one of the key components of PTSD is life-threatening stress – either for yourself or for someone you witness. With so much at stake in this election (democracy, climate change, systemic racism, health care, the government response to the Coronavirus, women’s rights to choices about their bodies, preserving wilderness, gun laws, the judicial system, and more) we can argue that the stress IS potentially life threatening.

Symptoms:

  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Checking the news on your TV or phone repeatedly for updates and info
  • Holding your breath
  • Expecting the worst
  • Forgetfulness
  • Despair
  • Hopelessness
  • Shock and disbelief at the number of people who have voted for the current regime
  • Thoughts of moving or seceding from the United States
  • Physical symptoms such as a pit in your stomach, grinding your teeth, or overall tension
  • Questioning the future of humanity on this planet
  • Social media obsession
  • Eating junk food or drinking more than you normally do
  • Excessive focus on distractions such as baking
  • Anxiety about what will happen next
  • Anger that fellow citizens voted to reelect entrenched power mongers despite their heinous acts 
  • Sadness and grief
  • Losing temper or yelling at those around you

Another important symptom is reconsidering priorities and boundaries with people in your life. Realizing that colleagues, friends and family members cast their vote for a president with a proven record of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, anti-environmentalism, anti-science, misogyny, anti-semitism and fascism, without empathy for innocent beings and little regard for others may be a wake up call in your relationships. You may have less tolerance for the intolerance of others. You may reevaluate your willingness to spend your precious time with people who have voted for these values. As a client astutely stated: “I have a problem with a vote for trump that I can’t just go along to get along with. I can’t forgive that vote. If someone were to change their mind later and realize that, I’d accept them with open post-pandemic arms. But until that, they don’t get to be in my life.” This reevaluation is a healthy response. Lines in the sand have been drawn. While this does not make space for hostility or acts of aggression, it makes space for personal choices about who you choose to have around you, and what behavior you choose to permit in your presence. 

In our response today we have an opportunity to reflect on the long road to progress walked by those before us. We can inquire into the experience of generations of black people living enslaved with their necks every moment under the boot of the white ruling class. We can empathize with disabled people undervalued for years before gaining rights they fought hard to win. We can imagine the pain of gay, lesbian, bi and trans sisters and brothers denied acceptance and rights in their families and society. We can remember innocent people who are incarcerated and wake up day after day after day facing the cold, harshness of a jail cell. We can remember the first peoples of our nation who continue to grieve the loss of their sacred lands. So rest today as you are able. Take comfort in the presence of those you love and trust. Exercise, walk, get fresh air if you can. Reach out to connect with loved ones. Tend to your health and enjoy your beloved pets. Listen to restorative music. Tomorrow our journey begins as we take our next steps in this fight. 

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