Coping with Post-Election Stress
We are in unprecedented times, and many have tagged the 2022 Elections as the most consequential election in modern day Philippines. There is an on-going pandemic that left trillions in national debt, and there are polar opposite ideologies at play among parties gearing for high office. Add to this the new platform of social media where experts, armchair pundits, and even can trolls get together to hash it out, and you get the potential for high anxiety and stress.
During any critical event where we are emotionally invested and there is high risk with the outcome, it is important that we take good care of our mental health. Regardless of who you supported last May 9, here are some tips to handle post-election stress:
1. Recognize and normalize your emotions.
You are likely feeling a lot of mixed emotions. If your preferred candidate won, there is elation, but at the same time, anger at the continuous naysaying. If your preferred candidate did not make it, there can be shock, anger, disappointment, frustration, sadness and grief, and even fear for what will happen moving forward in a new administration. If you perceive the election results as unjust or invalid, there may also be indignation and helplessness. You may also be exhausted from the campaign and election watching. Or you may be feeling guilt, thinking you did not do enough.
Remember that all your emotions are normal and valid. Our emotions showed that we are invested in the results, likely because we care for our country and freedom. For some of us there are more personal reasons for our emotional upheaval, such as negative experiences with either camps, being harassed at work or in school for our political beliefs, or values that are highly misaligned with those who seek for power.
Give yourself time to acknowledge what you feel. Take deep calming breaths, disengage from talk or discussion of the results, and listen to your body as it expresses its anxiety and stress. Find a way to release the tension, perhaps by writing your thoughts and feelings, walking or playing sports, or spending quality time with your family.
2. Clarify/ Affirm your values.
In an election where there are many strong opinions, you may feel a strong push to get your voice out, defend yourself, right perceived misconceptions and respond to bullying behaviors. And this is well and good. Regardless of whether you are in the majority or minority, think of it as an opportunity to affirm yourself for what you believe in, sift through the reasons why you believe the way that you do, and assertively speak your truth in a way that respects a person's right to a different opinion.
The mere fact that you voted, or are passionate about your beliefs, already speaks about your love of country, respect of rights, and support of the democratic process. Keep this in mind if you need help to remember what is still right in the world. And you voted for who you endorsed because you resonated with their platforms and what they stand for. This is also a good thing. Your values and sense of patriotism need not end with an election result or an electorate response that is not in your favor. You can always choose to act according to your values moving forward.
3. Focus on What You Can Control.
An election is by nature, an act where we have limited control over the results. You can influence its outcome yes, but it is still subject to a majority vote or may be impacted by dishonest behaviors, if any, by candidates. As with the pandemic, there is merit to move forward with radical acceptance ---- it is what it is --- but concentrate our actions on what we can control.
Volunteer for/ Start programs that educate the electorate, or watch over election results. Be a good citizen in your own way: help the disadvantage, obey traffic rules, and stand up for people's rights. And ensure good-looking out by practicing critical thinking and decrying fake news and yellow journalism.
And work to make yourself a better person! While it's easy to feel like nothing is worth aspiring for any more (e.g. "why should I still study Political Science when non-competent people can easily get to office?", "what's the whole point of voting when results are skewed by certain groups?"), hope is an emotion that can get us through tough times. Keep an open mind, and more so make yourself part of the solution instead of the problem. And don't burn bridges just because of politics! Our love for friends, family and loved ones should be able to transcend political lines.
4. Empathize with the Other Side
Social media has created a tendency to demonize a person with a different opinion or point of view. There is risk to either be overly emotionally reactive, that we are triggered with even the smallest of disagreement. There is also risk to overly intellectualize and discount positions based on feelings as but a product of ignorance, stupidity, or blind conformity.
But viewing things in black-or-white is what prevents healthy discussions and compromise from taking place. When engaging with others, listen first and see their positions from the unique viewpoint. Validate their experiences and test it for size --- you may be surprise that it makes sense. Be willing to accede to reasonable arguments.
Similarly, express your views assertively. Acknowledge your candidates have strengths but also weaknesses and even serious limitations and flaws, and move on from there. Balance logic with feelings.
If your candidate had won, there is no need to rub it in to the other side; perhaps respect their time to grieve. If your candidate lost, there is no need to resent those who take pride in having their bet take the post. At the end of the day Filipinos should not be each other's enemies --- we are one country and regardless of who won, we must take our government into account.
Lastly, if you find yourself already significantly impacted by the post-election stress, e.g. you work is affected or your stress reactions persist or increase in intensity/frequency, remove yourself from all that you know will trigger you. Turn off or limit your viewing of the news, de-activate your social media, and choose to walk away from a potentially distressing discussion. You can always return when you are ready to re-engage again.