Lots of weird terms are being bandied about these days, election depression being only one of them. Anxiety, anger, fear, stress–all are at a high. Therapists and other people in the “healing” professions are holding a lot of space for people whose emotions are set very high. So I want to offer two thoughts.
- Your feelings following the election (election depression or otherwise) do not mean that you are mentally ill.
- The above statement doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t benefit from seeing a shrink.
Election Depression is NOT in the DSM 5
We get those two above thoughts combined all too often. There’s a stigma that only people with a mental illness should see a professional. But why are we so narrowly defining who and how we should be reaching out for support?
The post-election depression or anxiety does not necessarily mean that you have an Anxiety Disorder or Major Depressive Disorder. if you already did have that diagnosis or those symptoms then election depression could certainly exacerbate it and someone to talk to, to teach you some coping skills, could be very effective.
Still, there’s no need to pathologize the desire–the need–to sit in a space and talk about the challenging feelings and thoughts that are coming up. Election Depression is not in the DSM, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist or that you are having a genuine response and would benefit from talking to someone (other than your spouse, friend, or great-uncle on Thanksgiving.)
4 Things to Learn in Counseling
I’ve spoken in other parts of this blog about therapy not being about that something is “wrong” with you. There are many issues in the wake of this election that therapy is primed to help you with:
- Empathy: This is kind of our wheelhouse as counselors. Can you teach empathy? If you don’t have a lot of it, or you only have it for people you really, really like, can you do anything about that? The relational work done by many therapist, including the work I do in Brooklyn, is grounded in connecting with who you are and what you want. Whether we like it or not, that usually means feelings are involved and when we’re in touch with our own it makes it much more easy to be in touch with others. And voilá: Empathy!
- Having Difficult Conversations: Part of the election depression is realizing that someone you love and care about voted differently from you. Even if there’s been a lifetime of opposite political leanings, this election means something different to many people. There are some deep visceral reactions out there, and you may be experiencing that too. How do we continue to have relationships with others who we so deeply disagree with? How can we get our heads around the fact that some of the people who taught us our values appear to have knowingly voted against those same values. To be in a place to have this conversation, an effective conversation, without becoming self-righteous or insulting takes empathy (see above), but extend that also to people skills. Some of it is just deciding who and when to have these conversations with.
- Self-Expression: Here’s the least practical of the bunch. If you’re going around to everyone you see and letting them know how angry or upset you are it’s a good indication that you’re not really getting that feeling “out.” You still need to practice it on lots of different people and it’s not moving through you. Maybe you’re not talking to the right people (see above) or maybe you’ve never really been all that great with getting angry or expressing how sad you are. In therapy you get to do it with someone who doesn’t judge you, and (even better) you don’t have to take care of. Our friends and family (and strangers on the subway) have reactions and need their time to speak after you’ve expressed yourself. Sure, we’ll (therapists) have our reactions, but it’s not your job to take care of us.
- Radical Acceptance: Not to be confused with accepting any old outcome. If I said that to someone who’d been traumatized or continues to be in a difficult or dangerous situation I’d rightly be told to go you know where. Radical acceptance is more inline with accepting the reality of an outcome without trying to deny it or negotiate around it, but to free ourselves from those responses in order to actively move forward toward what we want. In counseling we do this by giving ourselves permission to feel whatever the heck we’re feeling (see above) and then keep going. Someone smarter than I said, “The only way out is through” and that means we need to get through all the stuff we’d rather avoid to get to a place of radical acceptance and a life worth living.
So those are my four signposts for why counseling could be very useful to you during this time of election depression or whatever you want to call what you’re carrying around with you. No matter what your feelings about the outcome, it’s difficult to be in New York City right now and not feel the tension that we’re all carrying.
if you’d like to figure out whether this would be helpful for you please get in touch with me for a free 15-minute consultation.