5 Easy Steps to Treat Post-Election Stress Syndrome

Just because it isn’t an official diagnosis doesn’t mean it’s not real. Well before the outcome was decided, it was clear that this presidential election was the most traumatizing in recent memory, obsessing millions, dividing family and friends, and introducing potential stress to even the most everyday encounters. No matter how you feel about the results, you may still find yourself worrying, being distracted, having trouble sleeping, isolating yourself socially, losing your appetite, or eating everything in sight.

Here are some five things you do right now to become a better friend to yourself and to those around you.

Step 1: Breathe

Stop what you’re doing and get ready to relax. It only takes five minutes.

Close your eyes. Sit back in a comfortable chair. Lower your shoulders and push them back. Hold your head up high and relax your body from the top down. Start with your forehead, your eyes, your cheeks, and your tongue. Let your jaw go slack. Relax your neck. Check back in with your shoulders. Make sure they are still down and back, opening up your heart center. Relax your arms and rest your hands palms up on your thighs.

Now, focus on your breathing. Don’t change your breath, just pay attention to the rhythm of inhaling and exhaling. Think of nothing else. When a thought enters your consciousness, acknowledge it, and then let it go. When you become aware of an emotion that you’re feeling, acknowledge it, and let it go. Return your thoughts to your breathing. Inhale on three counts, and exhale on three counts. Keep going. Feel your lungs and diaphragm expand and contract. Imagine you are taking in a pure white light when you breathe in, and expelling dark corrosive smoke with each breath out.

Look inwards and be grateful for all you have, all those you love, and those who love you. After five minutes — only 300 seconds — you will feel better.

Step 2: Unplug

An unfortunate byproduct of the digital age is that it’s so difficult to escape the endless barrage of news, information, misinformation, opinion, trivia, facts and factoids that pour nonstop out of our televisions, computers, and phones. It’s as possible to get addicted to this information overload as it is to drugs or alcohol. After a point, you wind up numbing yourself to the world around you and inhibiting your capacity to respond to real life with real emotions.

Try this. Disengage from the internet. Listen to music. Read a book. Take a warm bath. Don’t be surprised if this is harder than it sounds — and isn’t it amazing that we live in a time when taking a warm bath could be considered challenging? The world will still be there, largely unchanged when you return, but you’ll be the better for it.

Step 3: Move

Stress is draining. It cuts down on your energy and makes it harder to concentrate.

Everyone knows that exercise is good for your body. But it can be even better for your mind. Mental health experts agree that physical activity reduces fatigue, helps you be more alert, combats the effects of tension, and generally improves your sense of well being. There’s a scientific reason why: exercise produces endorphins, natural brain chemicals that elevate your mood.

Does this mean you need to go to the gym or hire a trainer? Not necessarily. Any activity at increases your heart rate, even incrementally will have a positive impact on your mental health. This means walking, running, dancing, or playing a sport. It could even be as simple as going outdoors for a walk, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, standing at your desk instead of sitting, or parking in the spot farthest from the door. Amazingly, even five minutes a day of increased activity has been demonstrated to have beneficial effects on depression and anxiety.

Step 4: Connect

Having a long list of friends on social media or a full email inbox isn’t the same as really connecting with other human beings. Studies have confirmed that  networks like Facebook or Twitter — with their hit-and-run comments, endless status updates, and glimpses into lives staged to seem happier than yours — have been tied to depression, low self esteem, and a debilitating sense of jealousy. Moreover, we’ve learned all too well that social media in particular are designed to confirm our already long held beliefs, keeping each of us trapped in our own defensive bubble. This can be comforting on one hand, but just as easily isolating and upsetting on the other. Remember, emojis aren’t emotions!

So forget Facebook "friends" and reconnect with your friends in real life. An online conversation can never match the depth, nuance, and feeling produced by a face-to-face encounter. Get close to your loved ones, be kind to a stranger, reach out to someone whose views you may not share or understand. Call someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time. Take the time to talk, and to listen.

This last part is important, and perhaps counter intuitive: don’t make this about you. Ask your friends how they’re doing, what they’re going through, and how you can help them. Empathize with their feelings without trying to solve their problems. Just listen. It’s the best gift you can give to someone else — or yourself.

Step 5: Act

The worst part about stress is that it can make you feel immobilized, helpless and hopeless. If you’re depressed about politics, your natural reaction may be to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over your head.

Presidential elections happen every four years, but the causes we each care about never go away. Think about how you can make a difference. The answer may be closer to home than you think. How can you make a positive contribution to your neighbor, your community, your school or place of worship, or even your congressional district? Commit money, but even better, commit your time. Every citizen can contribute to change. In ways large and small, it’s always possible to take our beliefs and turn them into action. And when you take action for positive change, it not only helps others but also gives you the best self care you can provide.

There’s no way to totally eliminate stress from our lives. But we can learn productive ways to cope with it. And if you keep practicing these simple steps until they become a habit, the effect is cumulative. Make them a habit — they really work! And what may have started as a temporary treatment will quickly become a way of life — and a positive one.

Dorothy Kresz