In March, I wrote a blog post about election anxiety. I have reread it several times and thought about writing a follow-up because there have been so many layers added to the anxiety and stress of the election as it moved from primary season to a national election. Looking back, some of what I wrote seems a bit naïve or perhaps the product of a simpler time.
But now we are living in a post-November 8th world. We have learned that Donald Trump will become President of the U.S. in January of 2017. He has outlined what his immediate plans are for this country, but what is lesser known is which ones will be implemented and to what extent.
Based on my experiences working with clients and talking with colleagues and friends in Austin, Texas, I notice that we are tending to ask questions like “What now?” and “What comes next?” These questions indicate the oscillation between the present and the future. When we deal with the present, we are dealing with known fears, threats, and realities. When we have worry for the future, we are facing the unknown pieces of a Trump presidency.
Now, feel your feelings and grieve. While this might sound clichéd, I know as a therapist and fellow human that we often feel a pressure to keep soldiering through and move immediately into action. We may want to present like we have it all together or have answers for others. But that is not how we work after a shock or a crisis. Think of the impact of a shock as a physical thing that has impacted your world and formed a crater. When we are in the crater, we feel disoriented and are not sure if we can stand straight up. We may not be able to see the world outside of the crater. The body and nervous system need to recalibrate so that we can get our feet underneath us before we emerge to level ground.
Acknowledge your grief. Grief is the natural experience that comes up when we realize that the world will not be the same. There are five non-linear stages that we tend to bounce around in (denial, bargaining, anger, sadness, and acceptance). Recognize your right to experience these types of feelings and that you might be in a different place than others. Have self-compassion, and don’t try to force acceptance prematurely.
You can practice basic self-care, even while in the crater of immediate shock and the experiences of grief. One thing that can help is to get sleep. Because news of the election came late or in the middle of the night, we may still be behind on sleep, and it may take a few days to sort it out and catch up. Sleep is one of the top factors that helps with mood and in integrating new information.
You can also practice self-care by adding in more connection and soothing, and by limiting obligations or expectations. What I noticed in my surroundings on Wednesday is that many people went to school or work, but they reported that they had difficulty focusing and didn’t get much done. This is totally normal in the immediate aftermath of shock and grief. You won’t live in this shock forever, so be compassionate to your immediate needs and feelings as you would be to a good friend.
What Comes Next?
The waves of shock and grief will subside enough at some point so that you move toward next steps. One way to combat the fear and worry is to take effective action. You cannot fix everything, and attempting to do so would be overwhelming, but you can do something to shape your world.
Start by taking an inventory of what has been most concerning to you about the news of the election. Are you most concerned about reproductive rights? Immigration? Criminal justice? Your LGBT friends and family? You can notice where your values are and then start to take steps toward connecting with communities and organizations that align with those values and are already working on those issues. You can donate money or start volunteering. You can even run for political office (apparently, you don’t have to have prior political experience).
The most important thing is to please continue to take care of your mental, physical, and spiritual health in the future as well. Four years is not a sprint, and you cannot neglect yourself and your needs along the way.