The election an inauguration are over. But for many of us, “negative” emotions remain. Those I have heard, read, or felt include frightened, vulnerable, marginalized, hopeless, depressed, empty, nauseous, exhausted, angry, abandoned, shocked, and isolated.
Many of us from historically disenfranchised groups know these feelings well. They rub against the deep invisible open wounds we carry, the byproduct of lives marred by historical and contemporary oppression. This friction amplifies our personal and collective emotional pain over the election, leaving us (re)traumatized.
Dealing with this post-election trauma (PET) is tough, particularly when some of our go-to efforts soothe us in the short-term and damage us over time. So as one way to address my PET (see #1), I share below eight strategies you might find helpful.
Four of the strategies are geared toward reducing the intensity and duration of the stress associated with "negative” emotions like the ones noted above—a.k.a. coping strategies.
The other four strategies are geared toward increasing “positive” emotions, like happiness, love, and joy. I include these thriving strategies because experts indicate that fostering “positive” emotions reduces stress and promotes happiness even when “negative” emotions are present.
Note: I put “negative” and “positive” emotions in quotes to highlight that emotions by themselves are not inherently bad or good. They only become so after we place our interpretations on top of them. To that end, I am not advocating for the erasure of emotions like sadness and fear in exchange for the sole pursuit of hedonism. We need to experience both “negative” and “positive” emotions to live a whole, healthy, and complete life. I amsuggesting strategies that balance “negative” and “positive” emotions. Given how emotionally overwhelmed many of us are at this moment, balance is a goal worth striving toward.
1. Avoid Avoidance
Yes, I know…avoiding seems like an attractive option right now. And there are endless ways to avoid—retail therapy, binge-viewing Netflix/social media, over-eating, excessive alcohol/drug use, video games, etc. Although these actions provide temporary relief, they don’t help in the long-term and can actually increase stress and strain. As an alternative to avoidance, choose to address your feelings directly (i.e., problem-focused coping) by asking yourself (1) what is within my control; and (2) what can I do within that space of control to address my PET? When I asked myself these questions, I realized I couldn’t change the last year or the last week, no matter how much I wanted to. But I could share my knowledge of coping and thriving which might help others find healing. This blog post is the result. What can you do?
2. Boundary Media
Being bombarded with news of the election and others’ reactions can be challenging to process when you are feeling raw. Turning down this noise by shutting off social and news media can provide the space needed to allow your emotions to flow, a precursor to reducing their impact. Deciding beforehand what this boundary will look like increases follow through. For example, I have chosen to limit my social and news media exposure to just one hour daily for the next two weeks.
3. Do Not Engage
While we’re on the subject of social media, be careful about getting into online or in-person debates with those whose privilege blinds them to your pain. This is not the moment to provide others with the gift of possible understanding. Save that for when you have the energy to engage. Now is not it.
4. Practice Radical Self-Care
It can be hard to think about self-care at a time like this, but it is essential for your health and recovery, not to mention your availability to help others who need you. Radical self-care includes at minimum getting seven or more hours of sleep nightly, exercising at least 30 minutes three times per week, and eating three nutritional meals daily. Don’t skimp on your self-care even if it requires you to prioritize it over other things that seem pressing.
1. Cultivate Self-Compassion
These are difficult times, so be gentle with yourself when emotions come up in unexpected ways/places and stay longer than you want. Repeatedly reminding yourself that your feelings are valid and natural expressions of your humanity is one way to raise your self-compassion. Accepting your emotional state has the benefit of increasing resilience and psychological health.
2. Seek Social Support
Research clearly shows connections among social support, stress management, and psychological well-being. Heed this information by choosing to seek out friends—schedule a lunch date, call a friend, share with a trusted colleague. As you may notice, my suggestions require talking live with another person. Social media and texting help us stay connected, but they are no substitute for sharing stories, tears, and laughter over dinner or a long phone call. Be careful who you include in your inner circle of support. Choose those who have the capacity to hold your pain and not make it worse. You know who they are.
3. Practice Kindness
Altruistic acts go a long way toward making us feel good. Some ideas include paying for the next person’s toll, donating to a food pantry, providing toiletries to a homeless shelter, thanking someone in writing, mentoring a colleague, or visiting a friend in the hospital. Just be sure to give with an open heart and in ways that won’t deplete you further.
4. Chase Your Joy
Choose to do at least one activity daily that brings you joy and gives your life meaning, even if it is just for 10 minutes. My passion is writing. Although it is challenging work, I love it. When I am stressed, sad, and discouraged, finding my way to the computer to write can be exceedingly difficult, even though I know that writing makes me happy. In these moments, I fool myself into writing by changing where and how I write—instead of typing, I write longhand, instead of continuing on an existing project, I free-write, instead of writing for two hours, I commit to writing for just 15 minutes. What is your joy spot? How can you give yourself that joy for just 10 minutes today?
In peace and solidarity,