Feeling relieved? Sleep better? Experts explain impact of Biden's inauguration

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20:  U.S. President-elect Joe Biden fist bumps newly sworn-in Vice President Kamala Harris after she took the oath of office on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. Biden was sworn in today as the 46th president of the United States. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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Relieved? Sleeping better? Breathing easier? Following the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, these are feelings many are reporting. On Twitter Thursday, the sentiment was so widely shared that the word “slept” was trending on Twitter.

Many admitted that they slept like babies after Biden and Harris’s swearing-in ceremony Jan. 20, with one social media user joking that even his dog is “sleeping better under President Biden.” Others acknowledged that things aren’t “magically going to get better,” but that they feel “more peaceful than ever.”

Several others — including the vice president’s niece, Meena Harris — tweeted that they now feel like they can “breathe” again under the Biden administration, with some sharing that they felt like they had been holding their breath during Donald Trump’s presidency.

While some Americans are dealing with their candidate’s loss, many who voted for Biden find themselves feeling a sense of relief. “We know that at least approximately 81,283,485 Americans are sleeping a bit more peacefully today,” Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist and founder of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services in New York City, tells Yahoo Life.

Hafeez acknowledges that the results of the 2020 election show that we are “still a divided country.” But she says that the entire U.S. population “left to right has been so wired up for the past four years with a person at its helm who wielded conflict and anger to his benefit.” Hafeez calls Biden “the polar opposite” of Trump. “Finally seeing someone in the White House who is a stabilizing, measured, empathetic and humble force is in and of itself a calming experience,” she says.

Adding to the stress was the “chaotic climax” of the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 when “our entire nation sat glued to the TV experiencing all sorts of feelings from anxiety to grief to anger, worry and shock,” says Hafeez, “and what you’ll find is that the calm inauguration ceremony, the calls for unity, the immediate operations of holding press conferences where the media is not antagonized, give hope to people that we have stable leadership that is not going to fan the flames and instead will hopefully look to find common ground.”

Dr. Nina Vasan, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine and chief medical officer of Real, agrees, telling Yahoo Life: “Since President Biden and Vice President Harris were sworn in, I’m seeing so many people — patients, colleagues, friends — expressing a sense of relief. One patient told me that she slept more soundly on the night of the inauguration than she had in months, including when she was on vacation. Many people have experienced the highest levels of uncertainly and volatility of their lives these past several months, and that’s led to increased anxiety, stress and insomnia. President Biden is seen by many as a calming, safe and trustworthy leader.”

The connection between stress and sleep

Psychologist Karol Darsa, author of the book The Trauma Map: Five Steps to Reconnect With Yourself, tells Yahoo Life that the Biden presidency has given many a sense of “hope” again. “People have been under tremendous stress for so long that they had lost hope about ever feeling good again,” says Darsa. “Biden being sworn in gives them a sense of a fresh start and a renewed hope. When you are under a lot of stress your sleep and health can be impacted. When hope is re-installed, the body can relax and feel good again.”

Darsa says that stress can take a toll on your sleep and mental health. “Stress increases cortisol levels and creates a hypervigilant state of constant worry and a clenched body,” explains Darsa. “When we can’t stop thinking about what is not working in our lives or what is causing the constant state of stress, our body goes into a protective mode of staying awake. Unconsciously, we believe if we are awake, we can solve the problems — therefore, not allowing the brain and body to go into a relaxed state.”

While Darsa says there isn’t a psychological term for the emotions some people are experiencing right now, she explains that the feeling is “a combination of relief, hope, letting go, renewal and reconnection to self.”

Hafeez says that people have been coping with a “tiresome, traumatic and painful fight against COVID-19,” and a staggering loss of life with 400,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. alone, along with a divisive election. “So when we saw that observance for COVID victims during the inauguration for the ones we’ve lost, what I suspect is that for many that fight or flight response that has been active all four years began to subside into what we call homeostasis, which is basically a state of restored balance,” explains Hafeez. “This can explain why so many people are reportedly sleeping better now.”

She adds that there was “a lot of anxiety” leading up to the confirmation. “Even if you were on the other side of the fence,” says Hafeez, “the closure or completion that most Americans are feeling from a new president being sworn in, it’s likely leading to a sigh of collective relief.”

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