Why Election Anniversary Hurts You so Much

The leaves change, the weather gets cooler, and every store has too early Christmas decorations. If you’re having a harder time than usual enjoying a seasonal latte, or getting out of bed for that matter, it might be because of the date on the calendar. Not seasonal depression, but another, lesser known phenomenon: the reaction to the anniversary.

Since about November 8 of last year, counselors and psychologists have reported widespread cases of anxiety and depression associated with elections. Many people who supported Hillary Clinton and expected her to win, as well as those who simply never were Trump, felt something close to real loss after the election results. There were also a significant number of Hillary and Trump supporters who reported feeling ostracized and bullied by friends and family. Now that this date is approaching, many people who thought they were gone are feeling deja vu.

The psychology of the jubilee reaction

Research shows that anniversaries of any kind can be difficult – not just those that make some people wonder about the future of democracy. This reaction to anniversary was first studied in 1972, when researchers Philip E. Bornstein and Paula J. Clayton studied the psychological state of 92 widows when they lost their spouses, and on the first anniversary of that loss. The researchers found that those who were depressed when their spouses died had significantly more severe reactions on the anniversary of their death. The findings have been used to develop care plans for bereaved and depressed widows, but they can also be helpful in understanding why the 2016 presidential election anniversary can make some of us feel pretty awful.

“At this time in 2016, we experienced the presidential election, and we linked the election to existing concepts in our network,” such as autumn weather and other November-related events in our own lives, said Nick Kolenda, author and research psychologist … perception and behavior. “Now, in 2017, the same annual incentives are associated with the 2016 elections in our associative network and thus evoke the same emotions that we experienced.”

The grieving process

There is some evidence that this psychological process is closely related to actual loss. It has been shown to affect the same parts of the brain as grief.

“Anniversaries can be especially difficult because they will catapult us back into the cycle of grief, from the ‘acceptance’ stage of grief to the ‘depression’ stage of grief, says Christy Charkutyan, a licensed family therapist based in Los Angeles. “This regression can be discouraging and triggering, bringing the person back to the time they experienced the loss as if it’s happening again.”

Yes, it works, and not only for those who are most often called “snowflakes”.

David Ezell, a Connecticut-based clinical psychologist, says Trump and Hillary supporters may react sharply to the anniversary.

“In general, people have strong emotions because they don’t get what they want,” he said. “My guess is that those who did not want Trump to win will be depressed and more worried by the reminder of this crucial day. I also think that some Trump voters will also react sharply if they are disappointed with his actions or worried about his campaign’s connection to Russia. In this group, it’s not surprising that I’m used and disappointed. ”

How to fight

The good news is that the reaction to the anniversary is usually not as strong as the initial one. Instead of feeling like you don’t want to get out of bed, you may feel a little melancholy. Even if you were delighted with the election results, chances are you will not feel as good today, regardless of whether you are disappointed (or scared) by what has happened since then.

Kolenda, Charcutian, and Ezell agree that the best way to deal with these emotions is to acknowledge them. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed if you can’t bring yourself to smile or if you don’t have as much energy as usual. Whatever you do, don’t drag it out. Charkhutyan suggests waiting for a couple of difficult days and taking time out for himself or for his support system. You don’t have to sit back and rephrase what happened (if you are like a lot of Americans, you’ve probably spent more than enough time on this in the last year …), but don’t pretend that you are okay. if you’re not.

You, too, can take specific actions. Charkhutyan suggests thinking about all the progress made over the year, but you can define this progress. Research has shown that it is also helpful to set clear anniversary goals and plan actions to achieve them. This could mean phoning a senator every week, donating money to an organization, meditation or more prayer, or volunteering — all of which help us feel better, even when their impact seems negligible.

“While the anniversary of a difficult event can generate negative emotions, it also carries signs of survival and resilience that have made it possible to survive a difficult time in the present,” Charkhutyan said.

If you are feeling really depressed, don’t be hard on yourself. Remember, there are many misconceptions about mental health, including unnecessary stigma. And if you’re worried about getting yourself a therapist, there are many alternatives available . For more help, consider contacting the SAMHSA Helpline (1-877-726-4727) or the National Suicide Prevention Helpline (1-800-273-TALK).


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