We’ve watched the polls and scrolled the headlines. We’ve heard the chatter and seen the ads. With our collective breath held, we’ve finally made it to Election Day. The 2020 presidential campaign may be behind us now, but left to linger are intense feelings surrounding the current sociopolitical climate.
No matter how we voted this year, we are sure to process feelings related to this divisive election for a long time to come. Highly politicized issues seem infinite. From the pandemic to race relations and natural disasters to the economy, we continue to witness and live out such issues in our daily lives. For many, the issues are inextricably entwined with our mental and physical health; for some, they’re linked to our very sense of self. Many people carry these intersecting parts of themselves into their relationships, including, more and more, with their healthcare providers.
Below, we’ll cover tips for managing election stress, as well as advice for mitigating political tension that may emerge in a healthcare setting.
A tried-and-true strategy for handling stress—political or otherwise—is self-care. While we may be unable to control the world around us, we can control our interaction with it.
Some strategies include:
Therapeutic skills useful in eating disorder recovery are also appropriate for other uncomfortable and uncertain situations.
Remember coping statements such as:
It is normal to feel powerless amid a swirling political storm. Find small, actionable ways to exert the power you do have by becoming more politically engaged.
Consider one of the following actions as a starting point:
The goal here isn’t necessarily to enact immediate change, but rather to see that there are simple, impactful ways for us to make our voices heard. Doing so attests to the power of an individual voice and may provide a sense of purpose.
No longer can healthcare providers and clients simply “leave politics at the door” (or on their side of a Virtual Treatment screen). Providers have a unique responsibility to validate, respect, and contend with the political intersections of client experiences, holding space for it as it relates to their work together. At the same time, clients can reciprocate respect and tolerance for their provider’s real or perceived political beliefs.
Healthy client-provider relationships are more important than ever as cultural uncertainty and strife continue to exacerbate eating disorder behaviors and thoughts. Here are some ways to manage political differences and mitigate tension during treatment:
The antidote to the isolation of an eating disorder is connection. It is in relationships that we both treat and heal from these fierce mental illnesses—and in relationships that we experience political divisiveness on a personal level. Importantly, the quality of professional and personal relationships can significantly affect treatment outcomes for those with eating disorders.
Meaningful relationships between clients and providers can model what it means to relate to another person in a healthy way, a skill important in recovery and beyond. These relationships demonstrate mutual respect, understanding, and acceptance. What’s more, they show unity between people who may oppose each other politically, a powerful indicator of hope and community as divisiveness seeks to drive us apart.
Avoid relationship-damaging behaviors in any client-provider discussions. Call forth some core components of healthy relationships instead:
It is not just the topics on which opposing political sides disagree—even facts are up for debate in 2020. Still, the common denominator of each side remains. There is a person behind each vote. And that person has an opportunity to converse and find common ground with someone behind an opposite vote.
While political issues and atmospheres shape our experiences in diverse ways, the deep feelings attached to these experiences are often similar at their core. Behind even the most acrimonious political conversations are common emotions. Worry. Fear. Anxiety. Grief. Concern for those close to us. Weighty, complex feelings are shared by the most polar of political opposites, even if expressed in drastically different ways.
Moving the conversation beyond charged topics to our personal experiences and feelings around them helps to establish a connective thread. Rather than laying out arguments for a given issue, bring back any political comments to the lived experience:
The goal is not for providers to insert political conversations uninvited, but rather to allow clients to explore any political topics affecting their daily lives. Knowing more about this experience can help providers hold hope for clients, whether it be about recovery or the state of our nation.
A provider’s office is not a place of debate and contention, but rather a place of guided healing. Keep to the purpose of this clinical work and preserve the environment as one of non-judgment, curiosity, and hope. Here clients can freely explore their values and beliefs, and—more importantly for treatment purposes—the impact of political issues on their eating disorder recovery and mental health.
Ask open-ended questions such as:
We all need a strong mind and body to regulate our emotions and navigate life, its political dimensions included. If the election or current political climate is impacting your or your patient’s thoughts and behaviors around food or body, we recommend professional eating disorder help. Please contact The Emily Program at 1-888-364-5977 or complete our online form to get started.
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