Karen Hoving, Ph.D. 

Psychotherapist

Surviving election 2016 when you have PTSD or Anxiety Disorder

ptsd-drkarenhoving, CO

As a therapist I try not to “go political.” It is not my job to worry about who you vote for or to try to change your views on politics. I work with people who are aligned with my views, and people who have different views. The rule of thumb is “don’t go there.” So we don’t.

But in the past few week or so I have noticed an increase in “between session” phone calls and texts. Many of my PTSD women are calling with an increase in anxiety and panic attacks. All of these women have worked with me for a while. They have reported feeling safe here, they work very hard, and have all been improving. Until a week ago Friday. That weekend my phone was ringing more than usual (and I work on Saturday and Sunday so I’m used to phone calls).

The women who were calling all had the following in common: they had all either been raped as adults, had been abused as children, or had married someone or been in a relationship with someone who was physically abusive. Now to be honest, these issues are what I specialize in. So, if I want to play devils advocate, I’d expect women with these issues to be the ones that call me with issues in between sessions.

But the odd thing was the timing. Why so many. Why last weekend (October 7 – 9th).

Well unless you have been living in another country, you probably know that on October 7th a video dropped with a political candidate and an ex Access Hollywood correspondent. During this “hot mic” conversation there was a lot of lascivious chat about women. Sunday, there was a debate where the candidate brushed off the discussion as “locker room” banter and denied ever doing anything he bragged about on the video. Issue closed.

Only it wasn’t in my office.  What my clients (and I in the beginning) hadn’t put together was that the video they heard was stirring up prior memories not just the main assault they were seeing me for, but many were recalling the way men spoke about them when they were younger, in the work place, in bars, on the street. Then at the debate they became acutely aware of the male candidates body language and closeness PHYSICALLY to the woman candidate. And the pre-debate event felt “abusive” to some.

Now to be honest, they didn’t call me and download this in a perfect nugget. It was over a course of questions: what were you doing before you became upset, what were you feeling ,who were you with,etc. Despite having differences in stories from the past for why they were in therapy, they all had one thing in common – they are news junkies. They all have been reading, tweeting, watching all politics all the time.

The Monday after the debate I fell across a fascinating article in Politico on the election 2016 and mental health http://tinyurl.com/zjbm579. In this article it referred Therapists to a “Manifesto” that had been written by Dr Bill Doherty, a Psychologist in Minnesota. He was hearing from many therapists that they were experiencing the same thing I was. An increase in anxiety, anger, fear, and a sense of sudden helplessness from their patients. Dr Doherty had done a poll of 1000 individuals, not limited to those in therapy, Approximately 75% polled describe an increase in stress connected to the two major candidates (that is a combined number). 90% said that the stress they were experiencing was worse this year than in any prior election.

Now I know that everyone has an uncle, sibling or parent that you dread seeing in an election year because this individual votes very differently than you do. You go to dinner, perhaps a few glasses of wine later tongues can no longer be held and everyone says things they mean at the moment, people storm out swearing they will NEVER see them again. People are defriended on Facebook, angry texts and emails are written and when the winner is announced some one is happy(might even gloat a tad) and  the other feels that the event was stolen or that the  candidate that won will destroy their world in a blink.

I have friends that are conservative they are pro-life, they don’t like being nailed by high taxes, they are worried about people taking their rights away and feel that the government is way too big. My liberal friends are pro-choice, believe in health care for all, want the protection of the government. I’m sure I’ve left important issues out (my bad) but in a typical election it is about candidates that are both qualified but have different views about how to make America better.

In a typical election season a patient might mention who they are voting for it in a session, but the last few months patients have been actively downloading about articles they have read, things they have heard. Anger at someone at work, or a family member that is voting a different way. Lines are being drawn in the sand. And the anger is palpable.

So why am I droning on about this? Well I am taking a huge risk. And I don’t want to alienate anyone but I am going to step out of my comfort zone, after signing the manifesto the Dr Doherty created. I have begun to say this to my PTSD patients, and I will pass it on to you.

If you have PTSD or an Anxiety or Panic Disorder (or a history of it), and if you have decided who you are going to vote for, try to STOP WATCHING. The videos, the articles on the net, Twitter, Facebook, the lot. I’m not asking you to crawl into a hole, I’m asking you to protect yourself. And maybe you don’t need to completely unplug the TV and Computer. But take a break. If you start the debate next week and start to feel angry, helpless, frightened, a tad “over the edge” PLEASE TURN IT OFF. Honest, anything dire that comes out will be on the 24 hour news cycle the next day. You can catch it then when you aren’t flooded with anger and fact checking. Try to watch in little bits especially if you feel that when you read a tweet from someone you don’t know you want to start a Tweet-storm that you obsess about for the next few hours. Take a break.Go to YouTube and watch animal videos or Netflix and find your favorite chill movie.

If someone who you know is voting for someone you find abhorrent, unfollow them so you don’t see what they post. Now I’m not suggesting you tell them or defriend them. Just unfollow them so you don’t read their posts. No one is hurt, and you can log on to Facebook without fear of feeling like someone crawled onto your feed and abused you personally.

If by accident you start going into the “dark place” take a break. Go on to YouTube and watch cute kitten or marine animal videos for a while. Or anything that is not political in nature.

I’m not telling you how to vote- I’m telling you absolutely vote! But please, if you have a history of anxiety disorder or PTSD, and you are really emotionally involved in the 2016 election do yourself a favor. Please, take a break. Not forever, but for your own safety.

This has not meant to be offensive to anyone in any way. I really want all of my patients, potential patients, and blog readers to know it’s not just me. Many therapists are worried. Things are coming to a point where the anger is at a fevered pitch. I’m scared for myself, my daughter, and for my patients. But I can’t fix the world, so all I can do is try to help the small world I am around. And that includes you.

Feel free to ignore this, it is your right. But consider that it might help you get through the next 3 weeks a bit less upset. With fewer anxiety attacks, flashbacks, and anger outbursts. Just consider it.

 

Dr Karen Hoving, Psychotherapist

Aurora, CO

Other articles re: mental health and this election:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/05/how-to-preserve-your-mental-health-despite-the-2016-election/484160/

http://www.self.com/story/if-youre-experiencing-anxiety-about-election-2016-youre-definitely-not-alone

http://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2016/10/13/13259938/election-stress-aniexty-ahhh-poll

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