What do you get when you mix a global pandemic, a hotly contested local election involving people and critical policy decisions, and perhaps the most important election in U.S. history?
A stress storm not many know how to weather.
On a national level, this has certainly proven true, resulting in protests, violent confrontations, looting and many strained relationships. Even in Key Biscayne, the local election was rife with accusations of bias and lies and personal attacks. The use of a bullhorn by a citizen on Crandon Boulevard late in the campaign caused a disturbance, sparking a confrontation that resulted in a simple battery charge.
High-volume campaign confrontations were certainly not unique to Key Biscayne, however. In recent months people’s stress levels have been off the charts. Couple being under extensive quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with an intense election season, and there has seemingly been an absence of any outlet for frustration.
Police Chief Charles Press has told the Islander News the campaign bullhorn incident was the latest sign that the 2020 election season has been especially tense. Factors he cited included a divisive presidential race, the controversial local GO Bond referendum, and the ever-present COVID-19 pandemic.
“This island promotes a unity you only see written about in the Constitution,” said Chloe Godward, a therapist in private practice with Arvon and Associates, and who moved to Key Biscayne 21 years ago.
“Unfortunately, this current political climate has even infiltrated through this beautifully unified community,” she said.
Mayor Mike Davey didn’t witness the bullhorn incident, but he has been subject to negativity and witnessed the rancor that permeated the recent campaign.
“It’s been really disappointing,” he has told the Islander News. “I am disappointed in the process. Hopefully, we’ll get through it.”
Councilman Luis Lauredo is committed to making the island whole again.
“Of the three things I ran on, (one) was to keep Key Biscayne nice,” he said recently. “I pleaded with my colleagues not to put the referendum (on) this year because of so much division and pain. And I literally prayed I was wrong. But not in my wildest dreams did I think it would be that nasty. I anticipated it, but I underestimated it. But it’s OK. We can go back.”
Mental health issues
So, what exactly is happening?
To start, 53% of adults in the US reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the coronavirus, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. A separate study reported 67% of those interviewed admitted to ending relationships due to opposing political views.
Where is the majority of stress coming from during this time, Godward asked. The pandemic? The president’s promoting partisan views and division? Intensified turmoil around racial injustice? The loss of jobs? An inability to process our emotions?
Lack of tools when dealing with stress? Isolation and loneliness?
“It seems to be a combination of all the above,” Godward said. “Truthfully, I no longer believe the national polarization occurring in this country – blue versus red, Trump versus Biden, Democrat versus Republican – is to blame for the division, but it is normalizing a divide.
“We are seeing, for the first time in history, every ounce of our being becoming politicized. Add social media and quarantine boredom to the mix, and now everyone feels determined to voice their opinion regardless of whom they hurt.”
Who a person votes for has become the new standard of judging someone’s character and whether they will form or maintain a friendship with this person, Godward said, when in actuality, what should be occurring during these uncertain times, is the opposite.
“We should be seeking a way to unite with one another regardless of who they vote for,” she said.
Council member Lauredo agrees.
“I think with the right commitment, we can put it back together and move forward to get back to getting a lot of things done,” he said. “We need to get back to where we always have been, which is unique and let all the division stay on the other side of the bridge.”
Healing during division
Godward’s mission is to help her clients and community heal during a time of division. She asks: are relationships worth terminating due to a difference in opinions and political affiliation?
“I always leave that option open as a possibility to my clients but not without exploring a series of questions,” she said.
- Have I asked questions with genuine curiosity regarding their views?
- Have I listened attentively to what they have to say without allowing my beliefs from interfering?
- Are their beliefs putting into question their morals, values and humanity?
- If everything other than political views seems to align with my morals and values, am I willing to allow a difference in opinion to dictate my relationships?
- Five to 10 years down the line, will I put into question why I let a relationship go due to politics?
- Am I making a decision from a highly emotional place, and have I thought this through?
Another of Godward’s main goals as a therapist is to help clients navigate anxiety in order to prevent it.
Some tips she offers clients to assist with the stress include:
- Do not make an important decision during a highly emotional moment.
- Create boundaries when you have differing beliefs with a friend, like committing to focus on non-political topics.
- Use “I” statements instead of blaming, for example: I feel invalidated when you do not listen to my views.
- Then reiterate the point the other is trying to make, for example: “This is what I heard you say, is that correct about your views?”
Remain curious, not furious
- Understand others have their views because they genuinely believe it is best for the country. People don’t vote on the grounds that their candidate will be a terrible option.
- Notice your emotional reactivity and attempt emotional regulation. There might be something deeper if you are being triggered. Explore that!
- Accept you are solidified in your ways and those you speak to are most likely as well. You might not change their mind and that is ok, try accepting this.
- Engage in stress reduction activities like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness exercises.
- Preserve some sense of normalcy -- find a socially distanced way to do some of the things you use to love.
If people find ways to normalize these practices, Godward said, tension caused by a pandemic and “our political differences will be reduced. Unless a relationship is detrimental to our mental health and well-being, losing a relationship during a time we need connection the most is not the way to go.
“Let’s come together and offer one another support.”
The American Psychological Association offers advice to help people manage their stress related to the election:
- Focus on what you can control. If following the news … or scrolling through social media is causing you stress, limit your media consumption. Give yourself permission to take a break from the news.
- Engage in meaningful activities. Rather than fixating on news coverage, find an activity that you really enjoy and spend time doing it. Get involved in issues that are meaningful to you.
- Stay socially connected. Go for a walk or spend time with friends and family. Research shows that people who have at least one or two friends or family members to turn to for emotional support during stressful times tend to cope better than people who don’t have such support.
- Stay active. Moving helps us release the energy we experience when we feel stressed.