In the weeks leading up to the presidential election, more than half of adults in the U.S. were feeling stressed, according to a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association. Now that the people have spoken, with more voters backing Hillary Clinton despite Donald Trump’s electoral college win, it’s no wonder people are really starting to freak TF out.
“Feeling out of control can cause symptoms of fear, depression, and anxiety,” says Dr. Jennifer Caudle, DO, family physician, assistant professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, who's counseled scores of patients suffering from stress and anxiety.
The transitional period between administrations only worsens the situation. “Uncertainty almost always increases anxiety, so it's totally normal to feel anxious after an election,” says Dr. Chloe Carmichael, PhD, a Manhattan-based psychologist. “Even if you're pleased with the chosen candidate, you still don't know exactly what life will be like with the changes ahead.”
So, if you’re feeling sad and stressed beyond belief, here’s how to soften the blow:
1. Allow yourself to feel the emotions. Although there are worse things than seeing your party lose an election, like physical pain, imminent danger, and death, “I don’t want people to think their feelings aren’t warranted,” Dr. Caudle says. “When you know you’re not feeling right and just want to cry, it’s important to take a moment to stop and say, ‘How am I feeling?’ which can really make a difference in how long those feelings last.”
Better yet, “when you unpack and label your feelings, you can go forward with awareness of what you're feeling as well as a healthy plan of action to process the emotions,” Dr. Carmichael adds.
2. Talk it out with someone who can relate. While you might be inclined to curl up in fetal position and avoid socializing altogether, Dr. Caudle says that when you feel alone, upset, and angry, discussing your concerns with others who are just as bummed as you can be very reassuring.
3. If social media is completely destroying you, lay off it. If it makes you upset or impacts you in an unproductive way, set boundaries on how much time you spend on it,” Dr. Caudle suggests. And if you can’t imagine tearing yourself away from social media entirely, you can always hide posts that particularly enrage you or unfollow people who post things that piss you off. Seriously: Duking it out in the comments section of a friend’s Facebook post or attacking a particularly vocal tweeter isn’t only ineffective at resolving issues - it’s unlikely to leave you feeling any better, Dr. Caudle says. Talking to someone who can agree that yeah, this situation does suck, is more likely to provide the comfort you need to begin feeling better.
4. Take care of yourself. Right after an election, “it's normal to feel a general sense of depletion or just feeling spent because we've been holding our breath for so long,” says Dr. Chloe Carmichael, PhD. It’s why there’s no better time to give yourself some TLC.
“If you need a mani-pedi, the day after the election is the best day to get it,” Dr. Caudle says. A massage, nice dinner, or anything else out-of-the-ordinary that relaxes you and brings you joy, like a bubble bath or trip home to visit your parents, can also help you rebound from election upset.
5. Remember that the worst-case scenarios haven't come to fruition. While you might fear what the new administration has in store for you, your job, your family, and the rest of the world, it’s not helpful to overexaggerate the state of catastrophe before the new president even takes his oath. So instead of losing sleep over the fate of Roe v. Wade, Dr. Caudle says it’s smart to remind yourself that the things you’re most afraid of won’t necessarily come to be. “It’s not wise or accurate to focus on negative outcomes that can come from the election’s results,” Dr. Caudle says. “Focus on the positives and what you can do.”
6. Play therapist for your friends. The only thing worse than feeling out of control after an election doesn’t go your way is feeling helpless when a friend or partner comes to you for consolation. So do as Dr. Caudle does when her patients come to her: Ask questions that lead them to talk about exactly what’s upsetting them. To do so, you might ask, “How is this impacting your life right now?” or, “How do you feel about your own prognosis?”
Another way to help is to point out one silver lining: “Their anxiety is actually positive, to some degree, because it shows investment in their community and a willingness to participate,” Dr. Carmichael says. “Sometimes it also helps to consider the alternative, which would be to not live in a society with elections.”
7. Keep things in perspective. “We have to remember that in our government, the president is part of a larger system and network, and that the president is just one part of those,” Dr. Caudle says.
8. Give yourself a break. Regardless of whether you campaigned relentlessly or - eek - didn’t make it to the polls, beating yourself up won’t relieve you from regret. “We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t done, and we’ve all failed to do things we wish we had done,” Dr. Caudle says. “That’s life.” Instead of beating your head against the wall, wondering about what could have happened had you made a slightly greater effort, “turn whatever feelings you’re having into something productive and you’ll not only help other people, but make yourself feel good,” Dr. Caudle says.
9. Focus on things you can control. If you do feel guilty for doing too little to support your candidate, doing something to support the causes you value most can give you a sense of atonement, Dr. Caudle says. After all, there’s always a next election, and it’s never too soon to volunteer for your political party or another organization, or too late to donate to a charity that’s fighting the good fight.
10. Read up on your new reality. “Anxiety stems from all the questions that come up when your candidate doesn’t win, like what the election results say about the American people, your colleagues, and your friends; what type of country we’re going to live in; and what all of this will means for you and your family,” Dr. Caudle says. And while only time will answer all those questions, “it’s always good to be informed about what really is and what really is not.”
So give yourself a day or even a few weeks to come to terms with the election’s results, then read up on the Trump platform to find out exactly what we’re in for. “We have to be positive and come together as a nation, even if this isn’t the reality you envisioned or wanted,” Dr. Caudle says, echoing the sentiments expressed by both Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama in their post-election speeches.
11. Get back to your normal routine. While you might want to mope on the couch, with your eyes glued to the network news, 24/7, it’s important to push yourself to maintain some resemblance of normalcy if you want to get back to feeling like yourself. “Gathering information can be empowering and keep you in a proactive mind-set, but at a certain point you need to shift your attention to other things,” Dr. Carmichael says.
12. Take care of your body. When you feel like the world is going to shit, it’s all too easy to trash healthy habits in lieu of couch time and comfort foods, feeling like you have nothing to lose. “Make sure you don't take out that negativity on yourself through emotional eating or overdrinking,” warns Dr. Carmichael. See, treating that pit in your stomach with a diet of burgers and fries will only boost your mood temporarily. “Ultimately, exercising and eating right is going to help you more, even if you don’t feel like it,” Dr. Caudle says.
13. Remember that this, too, shall pass. “Symptoms of anxiety and depression are so common that almost no one goes through life without experiencing them,” Dr. Caudle says, urging that it’s normal to feel upset in the days and even weeks following an election. “It’s like you’re grieving and mourning a loss,” she explains. “It can take a week or a couple of weeks. We all grief and mourn in different ways.”
14. Know when you need professional help. Anxiety is only concerning when it starts to impact your daily life. “If you're tearful for more than a day or two, find yourself feeling irritable with others for no real reason, or have trouble concentrating on other things for more than a day or two, then it can be a good idea to get a checkup,” Dr. Carmichael says.
That said, some people fare better than others with high levels of anxiety or depression. If you’re feeling the urge to hurt yourself or others, it’s time to seek professional help from a counselor ASAP.
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