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election anxiety Psychology Stress

Election Anxiety Actually

November 2016, I wrote a post titled Election Anxiety, just days before the election to help others name and address this non-DSM V set of anxious thoughts and actions tied to the hotly contested run for U.S. president.

The rest is history.

Until then, I had never experienced so many clients and community members taking the initiative to talk about their hopes and fears tied to the perceived outcomes they associated with each candidate. I was even interviewed on the local news about Election Anxiety. And now, in October 2020, we are here again: Election Anxiety, Actually.

Let me remind my readers, I am a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and a Registered Nurse (A-R) in good standing. As a matter of course, I do not initiate conversations about politics with my clients, nor is it any part of my therapeutic ethics to persuade, manipulate, validate, or dismiss the views of my clients.

What I do is assess how the world of my client manifests through actions, behaviors, thoughts, and feelings, all of which have positive and negative outcomes for them, their families, and communities.

If you haven’t already done so, I invite you to click on the link above and read my words from 2016, most of which apply today. And is there anything I want to add that could be helpful for this round of Election Anxiety?

You ‘betcha.

Election Anxiety on Steroids

If you experienced Election Anxiety in 2016, this year may feel like more of the same except on steroids. If you were angry, depressed, or frightened then, many of the same concerns are still on the docket in 2020: healthcare for all, racial equity, gender equity, the economy, immigration law, environmental concerns (public lands, national parks, natural resources, climate change).

Let’s add two more issues: 1) a global pandemic, of which the United States is among the top countries with high counts of COVID-19 positive cases and leading in the number of deaths from the coronavirus, and 2) racism as a pandemic (declared by Public Health as such), with ongoing violence and unnecessary use-of-force by authorities against BIPOCs as a whole (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and Black people in alarmingly higher proportion.

Our nation is divided, and not necessarily just along party lines, about how to address both of these pandemics. Across both sides of the aisle are those who feel that economic stimulation is the general answer to resolving the ills of systemic racism and keeping our countrymen/people intact. Granted, that means that a lot of people may die, but their argument is that they feel that the people who die from the coronavirus are generally older and have co-morbidities that would prevent a more straight-forward recovery from a coronavirus that preys on weakness. This let them die attitude does not take in account that the virus also kills young people and may leave many with chronic illnesses that don’t know how long it will take to recover, if at all. The SARS-COV-2 virus has disproportionately affected BIPOCs. And I am beside myself with grief the number of healthcare workers who have died while doing their job to save the lives of others during the pandemic.

Across both sides of the aisle, there are citizens who feel that the current administration has not been forthright about its stance against the coronavirus since the first day it hit the shores of the U.S. (and in the Greater Seattle area, no less). We have learned as a nation that the pandemic was downplayed. And despite efforts from healthcare workers like myself and local Public Health authorities to prepare our communities to mask up, wash hands, test if you have symptoms of the virus, stay home and stay healthy, initiatives to act as a nation was fragmented, left up to individual states to do as they felt best, to obtain PPE where they could, and to mobilize resources, volunteers, medical professionals, and institute strategic planning.

Some states did better than others. Yet as of Sept. 29, 2020 (date of this writing), the U.S. still has more than 20 states with increasing numbers of coronavirus cases.

If you ask why Election Anxiety is high again, it’s all the issues of 2016, and these two pandemics piled on top of them. Americans will be heading to the polls, mailing their ballots*, or placing their ballots in secure ballot boxes, answering the question of who they feel will provide the leadership to tackle the most deadly pandemic to hit us in over a century.

Bystander Trauma

As a clinician, I have been given few, if any, diagnostic tools, tests, or measurements to describe and treat what we are collectively calling Racial Trauma. There is no category for systemic racism in our billing codes for sessions. Yet trauma is trauma. Trauma has features that we can name, point to, and identify, such as:

  • Shock, denial, or disbelief.
  • Confusion, difficulty concentrating.
  • Anger, irritability, mood swings.
  • Anxiety and fear.
  • Guilt, shame, self-blame.
  • Withdrawing from others.
  • Feeling sad or hopeless.
  • Feeling disconnected or numb.

[Helpguide.org]

Among those who talk about Election Anxiety and Post-Election Anxiety, I see the same symptoms. The severity of symptoms can be off the charts when you add in the chronic cycles of systemic racism and the exhaustion of trying to fight against it for oneself, one’s children, and one’s community. For some families, the fight against racism can be traced back across hundreds of years.

Bystander Trauma is also real. We usually think of Bystander Trauma in the context of a first-responder who witnesses and attends to a victim of a traumatic event, such as a vehicle accident or a violent crime. Yet those of us who witness via Social Media, News Feeds, television, and radio broadcasts of traumatic events can also experience another type of Bystander Trauma. The exposure to seemingly endless news stories of violent acts done against BIPOCs, deaths of loved ones and community members to the coronavirus, and a conflicted and contentious election can stir up similar feelings of loss, anger, hopelessness, denial, hopelessness and helplessness.

You may not be left physically bleeding by any of this, but in terms of your emotional health, you might feel like someone has nailed a spile in your soul. If you find yourself asking why you feel so emotionally spent by the end of a WFH (Work from Home) work week, you may want to learn more about the effects of “witnessing” a firehose worth of news stories related to the elements that are shaping our current U.S. elections.

Because my 2016 post outlined some guidelines about managing Election Anxiety, I won’t rewrite them here. Yet what I want to make clear is that the answer isn’t found in turning away as much as it does in managing the stream while finding the balance with appropriate action.

Your vote matters. As many of us have seen for ourselves, what we do in one moment in time is remembered years later. Our words, actions, and thoughts — even our recanting, apologies, and amends for wrongdoing — make a difference.

And, if it’s time to turn down the volume and turn up the action — like taking care of your mental health, following up on your physical health, and advocating for the health of your family members, community members, and state, we’re here to help you do that with all the continuing education, skill, and care that is a part of our profession.

If you’re struggling with anxiety — and Election Anxiety in this particular season — we’re here to help.

______________________

  • It may be a felony to vote more than once in an election. If this has been suggested to you, please consider the legal ramifications and fines for doing so. https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/double-voting.aspx
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Change Psychology Racism

COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter

via MEME

As you can imagine, things have been a bit busy at Seattle Direct Counseling. As of June 1 2006 at its inception, Seattle Direct Counseling has been owned, operated, and maintained by myself, identifying with the BIPOC community, and it should be no surprise that the majority of people who seek help and healing here do so, in part, because of that identity.

At this historic time in 2020,  King County, Washington’s most densely populated area, moved to Phase 1 Modified in regard to the Safe Start reopening guidelines issued by Governor Inslee on June 1 2020 in response to a global coronavirus pandemic, more businesses, personal services, outdoor recreation with up to five people not of the same household, construction, household helpers, and other activities have seen new changes. Update: King County has met criteria to be moved to Phase 2 as of June 18 2020, which opens more businesses, including day and overnight camping in state parks and campgrounds.

This means more people are out and about. And the coronavirus has not gone away. 

With a recent series of even more needless and cruel deaths of George Floyd and Breanna Taylor, as well as a white woman calling police while using her power to threaten a black man, the nation, the world, and locally in Seattle, protests have continued on a daily basis, calling for accountability, the end of police brutality, justice for those who have died at the hands of others who have used excessive force, and a wake-up call for all peoples to come together to end systemic bias and racial discrimination in all its subtle and gross forms.

This means more people are out and about, shoulder to shoulder, shouting and crying for change. 

Because of the pandemic, unemployment rates rose to 14.7 percent in April 2020, with a small decrease in May 2020 to 13.3 percent. Yet, demographic data shows that unemployment hit black people harder.

This means more people have less means to take care of their physical needs for shelter, medicine, food, clothing, mental health activities, childcare, and other essentials. The pandemic has hit the black and brown communities disproportionately harder, and this is something that I have witnessed with my own eyes. I have volunteered hours as a nurse in COVID-19 testing sites, private and community based, as well as conducted nursing rounds treating presumptive COVID-19 positive and COVID-19 symptomatic people in quarantine.

Truly,  the convergence of two pandemics — COVID-19 and Racism, are showing their devastating effects. What can we do from here?

“No One’s Coming to Save Us” 

One of the most startling truths I have read since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic was the statement, “No One’s Coming to Save Us.” I had seen this as a quote applied to taking responsibility for one’s life, and then I saw it again as applied to the coronavirus’ effect on densely populated cities around the world. It cruelly has applied to the lives of black people in America, who have watched the effects of systemic racism as well as overt violence take one life after another, and kick too many people down into a cycle of depression, poverty, addiction, and hopelessness.

Healthcare workers caught in wave after wave of sick and dying people grew exhausted, yet plugged on. No one was coming to save them. In the U.S., governors were told that they were on their own in getting masks, gowns, gloves, face shields, and respirators. Public Health officials scrambled to get test swabs, transport media with a way to seal it once the test has been conducted, and mobile testing sites with medical personnel. If they didn’t have the means, no one was coming to save them. 

When black writers and activists took to the Internets with videos, posts, photos, and calls for peaceful protests, they too made it clear that no one was coming to them. It is we who protest, and we keep protesting until people hear our demands for justice and change, because no one is coming to save us. The outpouring of support has been breathtaking. And the story is not over.

When you realize nothing will change and no one else is going to save you, you step up and do what you can. Every single person has a role to play towards creating change in both of these pandemics. You simply offer what you have, whether that is time, money, energy, a skill, a voice, a conversation, or a power that you have to share (influence, credibility, connections, knowledge).

What Can You Do?

First, we can acknowledge that this truth: no one is coming to save us. It is not a bleak statement devoid of hope; it is an awakening point to help us understand that each of us has within us the power to assess what is within our abilities to act on what we see and what is needed.

Second, we can acknowledge our own shortcomings, what we lack, and where we can improve. Own your own denials. Own your past lack of compassion. Acknowledge when and where and why and how you’ve failed to act upon what you know, when you’ve participated in actions that have hurt and grieved another person or community. Make a plan to alter your course.

Regarding COVID-19:  I encourage each and every person to take responsibility for themselves. Become a mini public health expert on such topics as personal hygiene and handwashing, disinfecting of commonly touched areas, wearing a mask while in public and taking care of a COVID-19 positive person, preparing for isolation and quarantining oneself and any household members for a full fourteen days if you become sick,  recognizing the signs of illness, getting your annual flu shot (and pneumonia vaccine if recommended), and getting tested for COVID-19 if you show symptoms, and if asymptomatic after an exposure with someone who has tested COVID-19 positive, get tested and isolate while waiting for results.

Be compassionate. Even if COVID-19 cases are slowing down in your locale, remember that it is raging in areas of the world like India, and Latin America, and other countries are still bracing for impact.

As of this writing, I am still receiving reports of people dying of complications from COVID-19, or struggling with the long-term effects during recovery (lung damage, organ damage, disabling fatigue, etc).

For some of you who have underlying co-morbidities and health conditions that warrant more vigilance, you will want to continue your life as much as possible as if you are in a long-term quarantine. Just because other parts of the country or your local region are progressing to Phase 1, Phase 2, or Phase 3 reopening does not mean that the coronavirus is gone. Case in point: over the weekend, King County has the largest increase in COVID-19 positive cases since the highest point in April 2020.

In summary, it’s to be expected that there will be more positive cases. This is, in part, because we have more testing available, so people who wouldn’t otherwise have known for sure if they were COVID-19 positive have access to testing. Yet, it was expected that with reopening our area, there would be an increase in these numbers, because the coronavirus does not magically go away. If those numbers increase too quickly in any area, city officials will step back down into an earlier phase or quarantine, to prevent an outbreak. And this would be difficult to do, as you can imagine.

Regarding Racism and Black Lives Matter: I encourage you to use what you have and take a role in helping to change the outcome of this pandemic that has raged in America nearly 400 years (1619 is one citation for slaves brought to a British colony in Jamestown).

Some of the actions you can take include: starting a conversation about Black Lives Matter, starting a conversation about what non-black people need to understand about power and privilege in relationship to Black people, supporting a local,  black-owned business or a BIPOC business (stands for Black, Indigenous, Person of Color) , donating to the Black Lives Matter movement,  joining a local protest (please wear a mask, do your best to practice social distancing, and get tested for COVID-19), writing letters to your local mayor, police department, and state government officials, signing petitions for change, learning about what it means to be an ally and not a collaborator in systemic racial bias, taking a course on bystander intervention.

While no one is coming to save us, the truth behind this statement is even more clear. YOU are the the hope you have waited for.

All that is needed is COURAGE.