Why Election Season Can Be An Especially Lonely Time
With the addition of this year's pandemic and push for racial justice, 2020's election season feels even more tense than in years past. And many people's activities and interactions are limited amid COVID, with seemingly less opportunity to recover from the 24-hour news cycle (and the endless doomscrolling on social media).
Beyond just feeling stressed and overwhelmed about what will happen come Election Day, there's another feeling that might be prevalent around election season that we don't often talk about: loneliness.
Why election season can feel so lonely.
We've all experienced it, whether firsthand or as a bystander: a conversation turns political, and tempers flare.
Politics can be one of the most divisive topics to pop up in conversations with friends, family, and co-workers. As licensed couples' therapist Alicia Muñoz, LPC, tells mbg, this is part of the reason many will avoid politics in conversation altogether, particularly when differing views are part of the equation.
But avoiding political conversations has its consequences, too.
"During an election, we may keep our most powerful beliefs, fears, and hopes from those around us as a way of trying to manage our anxiety and/or avoid conflict," Muñoz notes. "Or, we may deny or deflect the importance of our beliefs and feelings to ease the discomfort we feel. This can intensify our experience of loneliness."
Some people may self-isolate in an effort to avoid confrontation with people who may have differing views, or they may not share as much about their inner worlds with others during an election season as they usually do. It can also be lonely if you're someone who's particularly stressed, anxious, or consumed by the election when others around you are not, making differences in values more apparent even if no political conversations actually happen.
Loneliness in tense times.
Not for nothing, this election also feels particularly pertinent. As psychotherapist Ken Page, LCSW, points out, "There is so much divisiveness, and pain, and anger in our country around the election" on top of the still-evolving pandemic in which this election time is taking place.
"This election is even more charged and emotionally fraught for many, after months of social distancing, quarantining, civil unrest, and polarizing media narratives," Muñoz adds. "Many people have been living in a state of destabilizing uncertainty without being able to support themselves in their usual ways: by going to gym, traveling, hanging out in close proximity with others, etc."
Many experts and studies suggest there's already a burgeoning mental health crisis due to the pandemic as well. As such, Muñoz says a vast number of people's nervous systems are in a state of "chronic activation, where stress levels are high and emotional resources are low."
Research suggests confiding in others can protect against depression, but during election season, people may be avoiding conversations about the things they really care about—exacerbating loneliness and mental health issues.
What to do about it.
Right now, it's very important to find people you can trust and talk to about your fears and hopes around the election and your life, Muñoz says. "Minimizing what's happening internally for you—whether it's a sense of vulnerability, anger, hopelessness, desperation, fear, or grief—or rationalizing your inner experience away can actually disconnect you from yourself and your true experience of what's going on."
If there isn't a trusted friend, colleague, or relative you feel you can reach out to, she adds, even a therapist in your corner may be a valuable asset for alleviating some of those feelings. "Sometimes, loneliness is the hardest feeling of all—and the simplest one to remedy if we can find a safe person who can hear us in the midst of a vulnerable experience," she says.
It's also helpful to do some internal reflection at your discomforts, looking reality in the face rather than avoiding it, Muñoz adds. "Taking steps that help us control what we can during an uncertain time could be a part of shifting the balance to more peace and connection," she explains.
The bottom line.
Differences in political views will happen, whether in the office, a group message with friends, or at your next family dinner. But there are ways to combat the loneliness that election season can bring. Finding your trusted circle, seeking out the help of a mental health professional if necessary, and taking actions to control what we can can help in these tumultuous times.
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