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Coping with election emotion
Many members of the Stanford community experienced a strong emotional reaction to the election results.
Have people needed to talk about it?
While we have had only a small percentage of individuals coming in for counseling specifically to talk about their reactions to the election results, we have had a huge percentage (probably 85%) of clients who have wanted to spend some of their session time processing and talking about it — even though they made the appointment to address other issues. In all cases, clients have reported feeling better having been able to talk about their experience.
How is the election making people feel?
There are many different ways in which the election is affecting people. Some people are actively worried about their own situation, and/or the changes that may be ahead for friends and families. People may be dwelling upon negative narratives concerning worst-case scenarios. Other folks are worried that there has been an uptick or resurfacing of racial discrimination, which for many people (especially from marginalized communities) is causing a welling up of fears about personal and societal well-being.
What is the clinical meaning and significance of these feelings?
Many people were shocked by the results and also very dismayed. Emotionally, the word that I would use is that people feel dysregulated. If one feels dysregulated enough, meaning not grounded or anxious and/or upset to the degree that one is losing sleep and/or otherwise physiologically off-balance, it is important to get yourself regulated.
In my view, one has to regulate oneself first because, if you do not, it can be difficult to be productive in day-to-day life. Some people may say that being this dysregulated doesn’t bother them; rather, it moves them to action. And that’s fine. I’ve talked to other people who say they are not ready to feel better — and that’s fine, too. People are very different in how they manage themselves. But, most people don’t like the feeling of being physiologically dysregulated. This feeling can be very disrupting and can make it very difficult to focus.
How are you counseling people?
First of all, it is appropriate to treat this as a grief reaction and to expect to go through the various stages of grief — such as shock and denial, anger and depression. It is important to normalize that reaction and to work on skills that may help to regain one’s sense of equilibrium. For some, this is embracing mindfulness and remembering to refocus thoughts to be “in the moment.” For instance, if one is taking a walk in order to get some space from the negative thoughts and feelings, but those same thoughts are present while taking the walk, it is helpful to recognize that this is occurring, and turn your attention to what you are visually seeing in the moment: “There is an oak tree and some leaves on the walkway, and I am hearing the wind ripple through the leaves.”
For some people, talking to other like-minded people is very helpful. Also, staying away from the news and media in general while one feels dysregulated can be very helpful. I have heard a number of people talk about how being on Facebook, as well as listening to the news media, has been very triggering. People who avoid the these media and social media sources (and associated triggers) may be worried that they are putting their “heads in the sand” — but it is more important, upon feeling disturbed by an event, to first regulate what one has taken in until one regains balance and perspective.
… any final thoughts?
I would reiterate that it is very useful to try to stay in the present moment, regain equilibrium, and then — hopefully — turn your energy toward the kind of thinking and/or actions that are most important to you and that you feel might most help the country.
I also recommend reading some articles that are useful both for processing what has happened and for identifying strategies and useful actions for coping going forward: