Alt-Health: Election Infection?

It’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference between the real presidential debates and “Saturday Night Live’s” satirical version of them. The election has crossed a line. We are not watching a political exchange any longer; we are watching a new reality show that has somehow managed to carry a braying donkey into the final round of contestants for our nation’s most coveted prize: the Oval Office.

It is attention grabbing and it keeps us tuned in, but the drama is beginning to exact its toll. The respective campaign committees are not the only ones biting their nails over this see-sawing media frenzy; therapists have also taken notice. Over half of their clients now cite the upcoming election as a major source of anxiety. A new term has even been coined for this widespread angst: “election stress disorder.” People have come to feel like children trapped in their bedrooms while down the hall, mummy and daddy fight and scream.

Like disturbed children, we are acting out in reckless ways. Therapists are seeing an alarming shift in people’s idea of what constitutes normal behavior. There’s been an increase of belligerence and bullying in classrooms nationwide. The number of fights that start up around rallies and events is both disturbing and unprecedented. Some psychologists fear we are just seeing the tip of a developing iceberg.

I think what it comes down to is acceptable standards. When politicians reach a level of fiduciary power such as the presidency, they position themselves to set the tone for a nation. Their behavior gives permission to our behavior. And what is the 2016 election is giving permission to? Blame and self-aggrandizing. Ranting and rudeness and a swaggering dismissal of inconvenient facts. We are being shown the very behavior that therapists have long worked to overcome in troubled patients. We witness Twitter tirades and the sort of badgering in social media that one might ordinarily expect from a vicious teen. None of it can be considered any kind of role model for a healthy personality.

Every morning the news is plastered with yet another blaring headline about the disintegration of the Republican party, or a slurry of dirt tossed at the Democrats by WikiLeak. No matter which side you take, there are attacks going on and futures teetering at the edge of a yawning abyss … political platforms could collapse into tinder or revolve full circle at any moment like demonic heads. Is it any wonder that we are all beginning to cringe and clench our teeth in anticipation of what fresh hell each day may bring?

For the sake of our own sanity, it may be time to just turn off the news. All this back and forth and up and down has turned into little more than a volley of vitriolic ping pong. We needn’t watch every move. Let’s give it a break for god’s sake. If some earth shattering revelation is unveiled that changes everything, don’t worry — we will undoubtedly hear about it. In the meantime, it would do us a world of good if we could take a deep breath and seek out pleasantries for a change, share warm feelings with loved ones or do something kind for a stranger. We need to change the mood of the country.

America was terrorized for the first time when the Twin Towers fell. We’ve become increasingly jumpy and jittery with every disaster or senseless attack that has since come our way. Our singed nerves are near fraying and the incendiary style of the election is making things worse. Our knuckles collectively whiten as we watch and we wait.

The moment of truth is now just days away. This suspenseful mini drama that has been unfolding across the channels is coming to its conflagratory end. On November 8, our lives as Americans will change forever. We can’t stop the machine, and even our choice of candidates is not what the majority wishes to be choosing from, so perhaps it is our incredulous helplessness that fuels our national desperation. But as we step into that quiet and sequestered polling booth, let us remember that it IS our place of power. The vote we cast is the one choice that is still ours to make.

So, America. As never before — choose wisely