How to look after your mental health in the aftermath of the election
Written by Maria Cohut, Ph.D. on November 6, 2020 — Fact checked by Isabel Godfrey
High-stakes elections, such as the presidential election that just took place in the United States, can take a toll on the mental health of voters. We spoke to an expert to get tips on how to cope in the aftermath.
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A recent study that we covered on Medical News Today found that, following the 2016 U.S. presidential election, people who had backed the losing candidate experienced more days of poor mental health over the next month than in the month before the election.
Based on those findings, the researchers cautioned that this year’s presidential election might also take a toll on voters’ mental health, particularly given that it took place during a pandemic — another factor that has been affecting people’s well-being.
“Healthcare providers could potentially help patients in the 2020 election by monitoring for clinically relevant signs of mental health deterioration and offering appropriate support and intervention,” the study authors advised ahead of the election.
But what can individuals do to mitigate the possible mental health impact of the election’s aftermath?
MNT asked Dr. Matthew Boland, Ph.D. — a licensed clinical psychologist based in Reno, NV — to share some coping strategies and constructive ways forward.
‘Limit exposure to the election information’
“In instances when ‘our team’ does not win an election, we can often fixate on those difficult results and the sadness, anger, and/or frustration we feel in response to them,” Dr. Boland told MNT.
“However, there are a few ways to help ourselves shift our focus away from the results,” he added.
“First, limit exposure to the election information, or take it only in small doses (e.g., 5 minutes per day). Second, engage in enjoyable activities that give you meaning or capture your attention to focus attention away from constant thoughts about it. Third, speak openly about the stress you feel about the election results with others who are trusted sources of support, but limit how much you talk about the actual results themselves or why you dislike the candidates who won or their political positions.”
– Dr. Matthew Boland, Ph.D.
There is scientific evidence to suggest that such strategies do work. Past research has shown that exposure to negative news cycles can worsen a person’s mood and exacerbate personal worries. Therefore, cutting down on media consumption could help prevent or mitigate that impact.
A longitudinal study from 2014 showed that there was a link between engaging in activities that a person deems meaningful and reporting a better quality of life.
Past research has also shown that the more we try to hide and ignore signs of stress, anxiety, or depression, the worse our mental health gets.
To break the vicious cycle, it is important to acknowledge negative feelings and moods, allowing ourselves to sit with them for a while rather than pushing them away.