I have worked in the mental health field for thirty-two years, which means through eight presidential election cycles and I have never had to address any campaign induced disorders. Until this year. Not only was I called in to help with preventive measures to keep workplaces from splintering, I’ve now begun to work with individuals in the aftermath.
I am currently seeing clients presenting with what I’m calling PESD, post-election stress disorder. Like its counterpart PTSD, PESD results when a person is exposed to a traumatic event that overwhelms their normal coping skills. Common complaints are feelings of shock, dismay, depression, fear, panic and impending doom. Outside the office, I’m hearing the same expressions among some friends, family and colleagues.
As a licensed therapist trained in critical incident stress management, CISM, I often come into direct contact with the psychological impact of traumatic events. Therefore it makes perfect sense to me to use these same skills in helping those suffering from PESD. This healing process begin with what is known, in the trauma field, as psychological first aid, or PFA.
One of the traditional models of PFA, developed by George Everly, PhD, uses a SAFER model to guide one through a crisis. The basic steps are:
- Acknowledge the crisis
- Facilitate understanding
- Encourage effective coping
- Recovery or Referral
In practice with PESD, it flows as follows:
- Stabilize the situation by turning off the flow of stress. Back away from the all-day news channels, social media sites, blogs, tweets and radio rants. Stay away from the workplace water cooler and develop a list of distracting responses to the question “So, what did you think about the election?”
- Acknowledge that this has been a unique experience in our nation’s electoral process. Place a narrative around your personal experience with it. Feel free to harken back to the “good old days” of the Nixon administration and the political train wreck that was Watergate.
- Facilitate understanding of what took place. It’s normal to have a shock reaction to unexpected events. The fears and anxieties that are arising are simply the mind’s attempts to find meaning and take comfort in understanding. Don’t worry about your worries.
- Encourage effective coping. Maybe this is not the time to take to Twitter and rant about everything that is wrong with the world. Perhaps the impulse to join the Americans Against America Club is ill-advised. Take a step back and get the wider view.
- Recover a sense of normalcy in your life. Most of us don’t spend large amounts of time neck-deep in politics. Swim out of the deep end of political rhetoric and take a walk, listen to music, argue with your children about their grades. By all means rest and restore your energy; you’ve earned it. If, upon awakening, you find your resiliency muscle is in need of a workout, consider referring yourself to a helping professional.
As with recovery from all traumatic events, the healing process from the election will not happen overnight. The grieving process, an integral component to overcoming PESD, will bring days of denial, anger and depression along the bumpy road to acceptance. After administering PFA, there is work to be done on building up one’s ability to bounce back—moving from surviving to thriving. Take comfort in knowing that the creators of our democracy, in their wisdom, agreed that we should only have to go through this process once every four years. To that, we can all say a collective “Amen!”