In December, one of Nikki Easterling’s patients asked her: “Who did you vote for?”
Easterling, a longtime therapist in Spokane, told the man that she doesn’t share his political beliefs. He was shocked. He told her: “You seem like such a level-headed and good person.”
“The tone of nastiness is very personal. It’s very toxic and caustic,” Easterling said of the fallout from the election.
“There is not even any comparison,” she said. “Election issues have never even come up in my counseling ever. Ever.”
Two-thirds of Americans say they are stressed about the future of the nation, according to an American Psychological Association survey published in February.
And that concern isn’t divided evenly along ideological lines.
About 56 percent of Republicans said the future of the nation was “a significant source of stress,” according to the report. That compares to some 76 percent of Democrats.
The report looked specifically at social media and technology use and its impact on stress. However, it also takes into account other factors – like the election results.
Spokane therapists’ anecdotal evidence mostly supports the survey findings. What’s more, the stress doesn’t seem to be dissipating.
“It turned out to be just the beginning of the craziness as opposed to the end,” Easterling said.
Two of psychologist Michelle Estelle’s married patients voted for Donald Trump. They kept that a secret from the rest of their family. After the election, however, it got out that they had voted for him. Estelle’s client’s sister “went off the hinges and rails in this public setting and just sort of berated my client for her political choice,” Estelle said.
“I’ve never spent this much time talking about politics in session before,” Estelle said. “Never in 25 years.”
Kurt Wilson owns Survival Enterprises in Coeur d’Alene and voted, proudly, for Trump. He believes an organized resistance, established by former President Obama, is sabotaging Trump.
“It’s going to get to the point where people are going to start fighting back,” he said. “There is going to be a civil war.”
Between August 2016 and January 2017 the overall reported level of stress increased from 4.8 to 5.1 on a 10-point scale. That “represents the first significant increase in the 10 years since the Stress in America survey began,” states a news release attached to the study.
It reported 53 percent of those with more than a high school education reported very or somewhat significant stress related to the election outcome compared with 38 percent of those with a high school education or less.
Vaile Wright is a licensed psychologist in Washington, D.C., and one of the authors of the APA survey. She said over the last 10 years stress levels in Americans trended down, until this year.
She encouraged people to take care of themselves by staying physically active and consuming media in appropriate amounts.
“This is our reality, and this is going to be our reality for a while,” she said.
Between August and January, Wright said researchers saw a spike in the stress numbers, although the national numbers around job prospects and the economy didn’t change. Instead respondents reported higher stress about their personal safety, acts of terrorism and the political climate.
The level of uncertainty and fear for many patients is so bad it’s impacting some of their most important life decisions, Easterling said. In one case, she said, a client had serious second thoughts about having a baby because of Trump’s victory.
She had “extreme anxiety about bringing a child in to the world given the current climate and conditions,” Easterling said in an email.
For Easterling’s patients who supported Hillary Clinton, Trump’s victory upended their understanding of the world and America.
“How we create safety in our lives is through predictability,” Easterling said. “That’s how humans create safety and right now we don’t have predictability.”
The stress in America study has been conducted for 10 years. In October, an APA survey found that 52 percent of Americans found the 2016 election to be a very or somewhat significant source of stress.
The survey was conducted in early January by Harris Poll and asked 1,019 adults to rate the sources of their stress, including the political climate, future of the nation and the outcome of the 2016 presidential elections, according to the APA.
Suzanne Thompson voted for Clinton. Since Trump’s victory she said she’s been doing her best to control and manage her concern. But, for her, the issue is more than just a political consideration. It’s a moral one.
“Again, as I stated before my concerns aren’t Democratic or Republican,” she said. “My concerns are the increased hate crimes we’re seeing all across the country.”
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