The election has left millions of people in a state of great distress that they can’t escape. I call this post-election stress disorder. What is post-election stress disorder? To know that, first we should define stress and understand the difference between acute stress and chronic stress.
Stress at its core is nothing but a state of mind in which you feel unhappy and distressed. Acute stress response is your body’s physiological response to a stressful situation. Stressful situations can be an illness, a threat to life, or an event like an election. Once you feel distressed in your mind, your brain and body release stress hormones (like cortisol and adrenaline), which lead to stress symptoms and signs like palpitations, rapid heart rate, nausea, fainting, and chest pain, among others. Usually, this acute stress response dissipates in an hour or so. If it continues for days, weeks, or months, it is called chronic stress.
What turns an acutely stressful event into chronic stress? Repetitive, persistent thinking about the stressful event causes chronic stress. Often, these stressful events happen once, but people continue to think about them for a long time and perpetuate stress in their lives. Sometimes, the stressful event has not happened yet, but people imagine a fearful future and respond to it in a stressful way and make their lives miserable. For example, Donald Trump was elected as our president on November 8, 2016. Obviously, millions of Clinton supporters became extremely distressed as a result. That’s understandable, and there is nothing wrong with that. If you supported Hillary Clinton, it is expected that you would be upset about the election result.
But, that’s not the problem. People are not just upset for a few hours or a few days, which is alright and very human. The problem is that people are living in that perpetual state of distress for months, and this situation may extend for years. As of this writing, it has been more than two months since the election, and I see people who are more upset now compared with two months ago. People are chronically stressed about the election result. They continue to react to the event that is no longer occurring. They tend to imagine a fearful future under a Trump presidency, and they don’t know how to handle it. I call this perpetual state of worry, anxiety, anger, fear, insecurity, and uncertainty after the election result, post-election stress disorder (PESD).
Post-election stress disorder is a real phenomenon that’s happening in our nation right now. One of my psychiatry friends received 47 phone calls the night Donald Trump was elected. People were freaking out. This is not fiction; it is a real event that happened in real time.
There is a part 2 to this story. I will share that with you in my next blog post on Thursday…