It is about how to deal with things not going as you wish and how to calm your fears, wherever you fall on the political continuum, whether you are disturbed that Donald Trump is the president-elect, or are disturbed that protestors are unhappy that Donald Trump is the president-elect.
It’s helpful to realize that political events often serve as a lightning rod for displaced old emotions.
For example, your sadness or rage at feeling unheard by important people in your life growing up, or your rage at the hypocrisy you witnessed as a child, or many other feelings from childhood are now being reactivated. That’s not to say that there’s no hypocrisy in the political landscape or that your voice is heard loud and clear by people in positions of authority in the present.
I’m encouraging you to realize that you don’t bring a blank slate to today’s events, that your previous experiences color your view.
As I walked around my neighborhood late on election night 2016, I saw many people who appeared “undone” in a way that looked vaguely familiar.
As I continued walking and thinking, I realized what was familiar: they looked stunned and shaky the way people did in NYC after 9/11. What I keep coming back to, as I did then, and as we’ve had to do whenever there are shootings or terrorist activity, is that we still have the same tasks of daily living as always.
When feeling “blue,” whether you characterize the feeling as post-election blues or not, taking action—doing—helps pull you out of it. Passivity reinforces depression.
Focusing on these actions can help:
- Calm down, so you can think clearly and take appropriate action.
- Make a meaningful, satisfying life.
- Work with the things within your control and recognize the ones that aren’t.
- Be on the side of love.
- Treasure your connections and relationships.
- Look for the bright spots.
- Commit to self-care.
- Live with integrity.
- Make the best of your situation on a daily basis.
- Do something kind for someone or something else, looking more closely for such opportunities.
Let’s look at these in more detail.
If you meditate, this may be your moment to spend some extra time doing that.
A Facebook friend, Becky DeGrossa, posted a simple animation that helps slow your breath, so you can insert some thinking room into the emotional/reactive storm you may be having.
Some people get more anxious meditating. If you’re one of those, doing a few cycles of breathing with the animation above may be more helpful.
Make a meaningful, satisfying life
Yes, it’s still possible, and yes, it’s still your responsibility—and privilege—to do so!
Pulling the covers over your head will not lead to a meaningful, satisfying life—not now, not ever. What are you doing to make a meaningful life?
Passivity is never the way to go. Taking action is the way to go!
Putting your energy toward activities you enjoy, managing your daily tasks (paying your bills, packing your child’s lunch, working on your marketing plan, etc.), bringing meaning to your life will help you feel better.
If you have causes you believe in, get involved with them on whatever level you’d like and take action. You’ll meet like-minded people and perhaps enlarge your circle of friends.
Work with the things we control and recognize the ones that we don’t
Thinking realistically allows you to put your efforts where they will be useful, rather than wasting them.
This may sound similar to the “serenity prayer” familiar to those in twelve-step programs. It’s really about living in reality, rather than banging your head against the wall about something upon which you can’t make an impact.
Research your options!
Be on the side of love
Being on the side of love means that you’re not trying to prove the superiority of your position and ideas.
To quote “Hamilton” creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda at the 2016 Tony awards hours after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando:
Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love….Now fill the world with music, love, and pride.
Instead of having confrontations, you’re having conversations, listening, and monitoring your defensiveness. You’re putting yourself in the “shoes” of the people you love, in order to work on your empathy, and reminding yourself that one definition of love is the action of putting your partner’s satisfaction and well-being on the same level as your own.
Open your heart to another person. It feels great!
Treasure connections and relationships
This is the time to appreciate your romantic, family, personal, and business relationships—and to make the most of them!
Connection with other people helps ground you in the “good stuff” of life. If you look around at this time and realize your life is not populated with as many people as you’d like or with people you enjoy, this is the time to swing into action to make connections and develop the promising ones into friendships.
Again: passivity is not the answer.
Look for the bright spots
Finding the upset, disappointment, and the negative aspects of a situation is easy to do. But what’s the point?
It takes very little effort, especially if we had parents who modeled that behavior. There: you’ve found the negativity.
Does that make you feel better? Yeah, didn’t think so!
Instead you can put that energy into looking for the bright spots. You may think, “Sure, easy for you to say, privileged white woman, but my life is different from yours.” You’d be right, but what if you were in a concentration camp?
If your orientation is toward finding the bright spots, you can do it wherever you are and whatever your circumstances. I’m not saying it’s easy, but there have been concentration camp survivors and even concentration camp inmates who didn’t survive who found bright spots.
Anne Frank, who died in the camps, was quoted as saying:
Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.
Viktor Frankl, who survived the camps, said:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
Commit to self-care
Self-care gives you more resilience, which is important in dealing with challenges in a clear-headed manner.
Whether it’s getting 7-8 hours of sleep per night, moderating your alcohol consumption, stopping smoking, eating balanced meals, exercising regularly, or tending to your mental health in a substantive way, these are things that help you face the challenges in your life.
Live with integrity
Being true to yourself is its own reward, as is handling yourself well.
This is part of improving your self-esteem and living a meaningful, satisfying life. And you will be more resilient if you are living a life that you believe in, regardless of the circumstances of your life.
Blaming is not part of a life of integrity, so blaming the other side rather than trying to fix the situation and collaborate for good just perpetuates the divisiveness and ugliness.
Make the best of your situation
Optimism is an important component of mental health.
Finding the half-full glass feels better than finding the half-empty glass. I’m not saying it’s easier, but it feels much better!
I’m advocating for realistic optimism, neither Pollyanna delusion nor hopeless pessimism.
Don’t belabor the fact that you’re in the situation. (Yes, you want to learn from any mistakes that may have resulted in being in this situation, but not every unfortunate situation is the result of a mistake you made.) You need to plan how to deal with the fact that you’re actually in this situation, and resolve to make the best of it while you’re in it.
Giving up is not an option, unless you want the unremitting depression that can result from passivity.
This article in the New York Times is a great example of making the best of the situation and approaching things with optimism and collaboration.
Do something kind for someone or something else, looking more closely for such opportunities
We can start by stepping away from the divisiveness of the election.
If the some of the changes discussed in the bluster of the election season are enacted, there will be more human, animal, and natural resources in need of protection and kindness.
Let’s stop the name-calling, in which everyone who has a different point of view is labeled an idiot or a loser. That’s not kindness, and it doesn’t lead to collaborative problem solving, which is desperately needed.
Looking for those opportunities to be kind to and protect others can provide meaningful experiences for you, others, and the world we share.
Here’s a guide for helping someone who’s being harassed. It’s directed toward someone who sees someone being bullied for being Muslim, but the actions are the same for any type of bullying.
Every organization needs volunteers, so look for those opportunities to be useful.
Resources for post-election blues
There are many resources available to feel better. In some of the resources I’m listing, the tone is off, but there’s enough good stuff that I’ll ask you to try to get past the inflammatory language to get to the gems within.
140 Ways to Better Sleep (unknown author)
“How to Talk with children about the U.S. Presidential Election” (Dr. Laura Markham in Aha! Parenting)
“What Do We Tell the Children?” (Huffington Post)
15 Suggestions to help yourself feel better (unknown author)
This is incredibly important.
Children—including teens—are little sponges and they have the internal resources of children, not of adults. They will absorb your upset without having the internal resources to handle it. Indulging your upset in your children’s presence is overwhelming to them.
You are their rock, and if you fall apart emotionally, that’s much more terrifying to them than whatever else is happening in the larger world.
Children need our reassurances that they are safe, not that we believe the sky is falling. And, by the way, if the sky is falling, we need to keep our kids safe and shield them, not alarm them.
We are the adults and we need to model calm coping skills, not panic, rage, and tears.
If you’re experiencing so-called post-election blues and finding it hard to function in your professional and/or personal life, or you’re having difficulty getting past your feelings about the election, talking with a trained professional can help.
Whether you reach out to me or to another therapist, reach out to someone for help with post-election blues!
Diane Spear, LCSW-R, owns a private practice in the Union Square/East Village area of Manhattan (New York City). She specializes in anxiety, depression, couples, and parenting treatment, and has been helping people find the joy in everyday life since 1995. She is accepting new patients. To learn more about Diane’s approach to treatment, click here.