It’s all over. Barack Obama has defeated Mitt Romney to earn a second term, and that means a presidential race that has lasted for more than a year has just taken a sharp nosedive. Akin to being suddenly deprived of your favorite reality TV show, you may feel a little lost, and may begin to experience some feelings of anxiety and sadness. The key is to know when such feelings become extreme.
“For those who have been intensely involved in following the presidential election campaigns, feelings of the "morning after" might include regardless of outcome, a sense of disbelief, almost de-realization, that the big event has actually come and gone. People can feel a drop in tension, but also a kind of loss of the adrenaline pumping in the veins as one views the newest poll,” Dr. Irit Felsen, a clinical psychologist, trauma specialist and an adjunct professor at Yeshiva University’s Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, told JNS.org. “We can get hooked on it, regardless of the direction of our political views and which candidate wins.”
Most significantly, she said, “the recent political situation in different parts of the world, and in the Middle East in particular, have created unusually elevated existential worries. The recent days in the tri-state area, with the damage and losses wrought by Hurricane Sandy, and with long lines waiting to purchase gas have added to an "apocalyptic" script that can further fuel depression and anxiety.”
Ironically, however, Dr. David Rosmarin, a psychologist and instructor in the department of psychiatry of McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School, has been told by acquaintances who were recently affected by Hurricane Sandy that they “experienced a significant decline in (election) anxiety because they have no power” and no access to technology.
In fact, he said, technology has a massive influence on this phenomenon. With the advent of social media in particular, which has allowed voters to track campaign developments minute by minute, it’s impossible to “escape the information,” according to Rosmarin. “It’s everywhere,” he said.
But don’t be immediately worried if you have a negative emotional reaction in the post-election period. An obvious extreme reaction would be a panic attack, but feeling a little down because the candidate you didn’t vote for won or because the economy is not going well is “all normal,” Rosmarin said. If in three weeks you’re still seriously upset, “then that’s a problem,” he said.
From a spiritual perspective, in Jewish thought “we’re focused on social action,” Rosmarin added. “What’s more important is that you’re acting in a way that you value and want to do,” he said. “Emotions are not a problem, behavior is the issue.” If you or someone you know is withdrawing socially, he said that is a concern. Felsen agreed.
“Taking time away from important activities or relationships... sneaking to check the polls once again or staying up late poring over the screen when one should have been doing other things, these should have been red flags,” she said.
We also have to “wonder what is God’s role in the presidential election,” Rosmarin said. Many people believe that the Electoral College system doesn’t make sense, so recognize you’re “not in control” of everything, he said.
Ultimately, according to Felsen, we should remain connected to our belief in democracy and in the benign power of the structures and mechanisms of our democratic process despite the fears and the divisive rhetoric fanned during the political campaigning process.
“As Hanukkah approaches, we should all remember that many little lights can together make a great light,” she said. “Let each of us try to add their own little flame to abolish darkness.”