There are two things that I will always remember about Election Day 2016. One is the palpable anxiety that rolled its way across the country, and the other is the lesson that I learned about people and our basic need to feel safe.
In the days leading up to the election, psychologists reported that their clients were experiencing increased anxiety—that purposeless, toxic nagging that heightened their sensitivity to any perceived fear about the future. Americans were on pins and needles with the anticipation of the election results. Many feared their country would never be the same again or that their personal safety and livelihood would be compromised by the agenda of the newly elected president. Some just wanted the election to be over as soon as possible so they could move on one way or the other.
The situation called for mindfulness practices at the very least because it certainly seemed like avoiding those omnipresent news updates was not going to be an option for any American. You just couldn’t escape it no matter where you went: the grocery store line, the watercooler, your church, etc. Election talk was everywhere.
Where were you?
I was out of town on Election Day, and I will forever remember my experience on the flight home late that evening. Even though it was a short journey, passengers in nearly every row on the plane paid the extra fee to access in-flight wifi so they could watch live news feeds on their digital devices.
Just before landing, when the news sources called the results in Florida—a key state for Donald Trump’s ultimate win—I saw a woman, focused on her phone, begin to cry. Her husband and children eventually made their way off the plane dragging luggage behind them, while the crying woman walked slowly up the jetway, practically inert in her news-steeped stupor.
Many will remember where they were and what they were doing when the historic election upset became clear. I hope that for her sake, the woman I saw on the plane went home to a comfortable place where she could relax and feel safe.
We are fortunate to have such real-time access to information literally everywhere we go, but there are times when it’s simply overkill. Behavioral health professionals recommend avoiding excessive news consumption and contentious political conversations among people who are apt to disagree. Perhaps clinicians need to begin preparing additional best practices now in anticipation of the 2020 election.
An unexpected shift can leave people feeling unsafe and unanchored. How we re-establish our sense of safety or comfort will be an individual process for each person. It’s my hope that clinical leaders will address this phenomenon of election anxiety, even now, after the result is final, because there are many more changes ahead for the American people.
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