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Dr. Jennifer Naparstek Klein: Reaching the End of a Stressful Election Cycle PDF Print Email

By Jennifer Naparstek Klein, Psy.D., The Counseling Center

Nov. 2, 2016:  "Unfriend me if you are voting for...[in the blank]." Have you seen, or utilized, this request on your Facebook thread? Maybe you've been avoiding friends or family members who are on the other side of the political debate, supposing it is perhaps best to wait until after Election Day to be in contact. 

This election cycle has been incredibly divisive, perhaps more so than others in recent history. In fact, many are voicing a powerful experience of stress and have been longing for it to come to conclusion. We are unwilling participants in a bad reality TV season that has gone on for two years, with hardly any commercial breaks.

Sheryl Crow, famous singer-songwriter and rocker, has begun her own campaign, not for elected office, but to reduce the length of the U.S. election cycle. She cites that other advanced nations have much shorter seasons, which tends to be easier psychologically on the populace. Crow specifically worries about her own children, voicing that she has had to shield them from the vitriol of this election cycle and has had to over-explain certain unsavory issues and topics.

The impact of this election cycle on children has been discussed on both sides of the aisle. Some media psychologists have suggested sending children to sleep early on debate nights to protect them from ugly language and accusations. Articles have been written about the impact on children of color and the emotional climate in schools when peers attempt to tackle issues like immigration on the playground. 

As adults struggle to make their own decisions and apply their own moral compass to the issues and candidates, it is complicated to then consider how to discuss all the issues with our children in a way that promotes critical thinking and a sense of safety and security.

Some adults have reported feeling deeply and emotionally affected, and even shocked, by the profound divisions in our country. U.S. citizens are certainly used to a healthy debate of issues; in fact, that is the best part of our nation--the exchange of ideas. However, when those with opposing ideas turn to aggression, or hate speech, on either side, this can be alarming. 

It is clear that there is a sense of desperation and disillusionment in some portions of the populace, and as we see this unfold in real time on television or the Internet, a sense of anxiety and dread can take hold, and even disrupt our regular routines. For those who are vulnerable to anxiety and depression, it can be even tougher to bear. 

As we continue to pull back the curtain, we can see that marriages have also been affected in this election cycle. Couples do not always vote the same way, and it is ill-advised to "unfriend" your spouse. Gender issues have loomed large in this particular election season, and alliances with one’s own gender can be powerful and naturally divisive between men and women. 

The expression "agree to disagree" has never become more useful or relevant in all types of relationships. Age and generational differences are also impactful in decision-making and political affiliation. Younger generations can aspire to “revolution,” and older generations can long for bygone eras; some long for change, and some long to shatter ceilings. It is remarkable to find oneself fitting squarely in a demographic and realize how predictable one’s opinion is, based on simple personal facts--age, sex, geographical location, education level, etc.

For the most part, it is critical to engage, and think, and participate as citizens and then also to turn off the TV, shut down social media, and head out to do what is normal and reparative. We must continue to work, to play, to parent, to sleep, and to go on as usual while the daily news cycle continues its grind.

It is vital to realize that some amount of what we see and hear is sensationalistic and meant to stir our emotions and even to be frightening--and we have a choice about whether we allow that to happen. The only clear remedy to the extreme stress is to simply unplug. Yes, these events are important, and the election is significant, but so are our mental health and well-being. It is advisable to treat one’s emotional health, one’s children’s feelings, and one’s relationships as top priorities. 

In truth, our relationships must take precedence overnight all else. This article began with the impulse to sever relationships based on philosophical or political differences. However, it is good to remember that the human brain is endowed with the capacity to reason and to argue. We are designed to disagree! Debate is mental exercise--it is a healthy endeavor for humans, so it is vital for us to tolerate division and ultimately strive for convergence. When necessary, we step back and take a break, and then we step forward and exercise our right to disagree. Now that the season has reached its conclusion, there may be opportunity for reconciliation and a chance to agree.

Editor’s note:  Dr. Klein is a psychologist at The Counseling Center, Inc. at 180 Pondfield Road in Bronxville.  She specializes in child and family psychology. Her email address is CLOAKING and phone number is 914-793-3388, ext.105.

Pictured here:  Jennifer Naparstek Klein, Psy.D.

Photo courtesy The Counseling Center


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