Come Tuesday evening, it will all be over. Finally. The non-stop political ads and, if you live in a swing state, the non-stop robo-calls.
Americans will have gone to the polls and either given Barack Obama another four-year term as President or replaced him with Mitt Romney.
But for many, election day will not just bring closure. It will bring unbridled joy or bitter disappointment because increasingly, Americans hold strong partisan views and take their politics personally.
Dr. Asim Shah, a Harris Health System psychologist, likens this year's election cycle to an emotional roller coaster. Some riders will get off laughing, other will be throwing up. His prescription for the post-election blues? A strong dose of no TV, radio, social media and Internet coverage for a week or two.
“People need to be more accepting and less emotional about the results and realize that, in the short-term the election will not affect them,” said Shah, chief of Psychiatry at Harris Health Ben Taub Hospital and associate professor of the Menninger Department of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine. “If you wake up and go to work or take your child to school the next day, you will still need to do those things as part of your life after the election.”
Emotionally charged politics
It's natural to feel something after an election but Shah notes that politics has become more emotionally charged in recent years with the rise of social media and information outlets that reflect either a liberal or conservative point of view. For those who are more invested in a particular outcome, the results could affect their mental health and well-being.
Shah says emotional reactions are normal and expected, but people with bouts of depression, anger and anxiety that last more than two weeks and cause functional impairments should seek medical care. He warns that people with outbursts tinged with threats of harming oneself or others also should be referred for help.
In 2004, Taiwan faced a hotly contested election. It affected the population greatly, Shah says. Psychiatrists later diagnosed about 10 percent of the population with depression and anxiety and subsequently coined the phrase -- post-election stress syndrome.
Also that year many liberal supporters of Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) became despondent when President Bush won re-election.
“You don’t see a lot of people who are able to accept a decision so quickly that goes against them,” Shah says. “And just telling people on the losing side, ‘Oh don’t worry, everything will be OK,’ doesn’t help. It just might make things worse.”
So, if your guy loses on Tuesday, here's what Shah says you should do:
- Turn off all TV, radio and Internet coverage (if necessary, listen only to non-partisan coverage)
- Avoid conflict by not bringing up the topic
- Change topic when it comes up
- Realize that things aren’t changing in the short-term no matter who wins
- Concentrate on day-to-day activities that are part of life
In addition, Shah recommends finding some pleasant distractions, like exercising, watching comedies, cooking, gardening or sporting events to distract from politics. But be careful when it comes to comfort food -- that could easily pack on some pounds and increase your depression.
As a general rule, Shah subscribes to the idea of never mixing friendships with any discussions of sensitive topics like politics and religion.
“You save a lot of friendships and relationships that way,” he adds.