Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Four Ways to Deal with Election Results

According to the recent American Psychological Association’s survey conducted in August of 2016, 52 percent of respondents reported that the election had been a very or at least somewhat significant source of stress. At this juncture, it is highly likable that many New Yorkers have suffered from negative emotional ramifications ranging from  feeling anxious, frustrated, or hopeless to getting angry and mad. 

The founder of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Marsha Linehan, explained that when life presents us with problems, we have four options: 1) solve the problem, 2) feel better about the problem, 3) tolerate the problem, or 4) stay miserable.

The first option is to solve the problem. In general, we can solve the problem by changing the difficult situation with possible solutions. There are many problem-solving tips and strategies out there, but we most frequently use the following steps. First, define the problem. The problem has to be specific and measurable. For example, “I am extremely anxious and worried of the election outcome.” Second, analyze the problem. Is it in your control to solve the problem? If the answer is no, then problem-solving option is not the right choice. Instead, consider one of the remaining three options. If the answer is yes, then you can move forward to the next step which is to explore possible solutions. Possible solutions can be talking to friends or making an appointment to see a therapist. Other possible solutions include going to a gym, taking a short break, or taking anxiety medication if necessary. Once the possible solutions have been listed, you can analyze the pros and cons of each solution to choose the best one with the most advantages with least disadvantages. Last, but not least, you need to take an action. It is not easy to implement the solution in real life. We recommend making a strong commitment and implement the plan immediately.

The second option is to feel better about the problem. Oftentimes, we are unable to change situations or challenges; however, we can change our perception to make ourselves feel better. For example, if you are overwhelmed and anxious by the thoughts of how the current election resultswould cause significant problems and risks to your daily life, you can help yourself to feel better by modifying the perception to be more balanced, helpful, and even positive. Maybe, consider changing your perception to this: “I am not alone in this problem and/or I still have power to monitor and even replace the outcomes in upcoming elections.” Changing the perception will probably make you feel better about the problem you face with the election results. In addition, we can change our view on our own emotions. For example, if you’re experiencing anger as a result of the election outcome, you can tell yourself that anger is not a bad emotion. We have anger and we use it to motivate us to take actions and change directions in life. 

The third option is tolerating the problem, meaning that you radically accept the reality because problem-solving is not an option. It does not mean that you avoid or passively give up your resistance to the election results. Instead, it is viewing the situation as it is without avoiding or fighting back. It also could mean accepting and embracing the outcome, at least for the time being. Otherwise, you would experience severe emotional distress or might even observe worsening consequences from not accepting it at this moment. It is important to note that tolerating the problemdoes not mean that you agree with what happened or you force yourself to think the election result is reasonable. 

The last option is staying miserable. You might not consider that staying miserable is a viable option to deal with the election results. But if you have tried all other options, and you still have the problem, then you can opt to stay miserable. This means choosing to be inactive at this current moment until you can try something different. Staying miserable helps reflect the pains in life and at least does not make things worse for the time being. 

I suggest that clinicians start with these four options when working with clients to resolve the current post-election stress. The four options can guide us to deal with any problems we face. In the current heightened tension of election results, I gather that these dialectical approaches could benefit us as well as clients we serve every day.