Angry, Sad, or Depressed After the Election? Try These Six Tips
Massachusetts General Hospital psychologist Ellen Slawsby offers her advice.
If your preferred ballot measure or candidate–presidential or otherwise—lost last night, today likely seemed to dawn a gloomy day. There’s nothing wrong with feeling some disappointment, but the way you process negative emotions can make a major impact on your mental health.
Dr. Ellen Slawsby, director of pain services at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, offers her advice for easing your post-election sadness, anger, or anxiety.
1. Breathe. Start with the basics. “Stress is a perception of a threat. It’s the perception that we cannot cope with something,” Slawsby says. “We have to stop, breathe, reflect, and choose a response, versus having a knee-jerk reaction.”
In other words, instead of panicking over the contents of your newsfeed, take a pause to think critically, reassess, and try to adopt a more balanced viewpoint of the situation.
2. Quiet the stress response. Election results aren’t our only source of stress today—months of campaigning and political drama have added up, Slawsby says, and it’s going to take time to quiet the body’s response to that arousal. “Stress physiology is real,” Slawsby says. “Our heart rate increases, our blood pressure increases, our palms may get sweaty, our GI tract may feel distressed, we may get muscle tension—but we can decrease that.”
Slawsby recommends eliciting the relaxation response—a method of reducing hyper-arousal of the nervous system, which has been linked to a slew of health benefits and was developed by Benson-Henry founder Dr. Herbert Benson—for at least 20 minutes per day, perhaps through activities such as meditation or yoga. She also suggests “breathing in peace and out tension…letting yourself focus on that phrase” several times a day. Don’t forget about maintaining proper nutrition and fitness, either.
3. Listen to each other. Social connection may help if you’re feeling upset, as can making a real effort to accept and understand those with whom you disagree—especially family and close friends with whom a rift may have formed during the election cycle.
“Please be respectful of one another, appreciate one another for who they are,” Slawsby says. “Give people a little bit of a chance during this time.”
4. Decide to be happy. This is easier said than done, but Slawsby points to the idea that people tend to be as happy as they choose to be.
Make a real effort to avoid doomsday thoughts and exaggeration, turning instead to logic and forward thinking. When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, look to these traits of happy people:
“Happy individuals have positive thoughts. They don’t let negative circumstances define them,” Slawsby says. “They’re good at reappraising negative situations and finding meaning in them and coming up with a more balanced perspective. They tend to be less reactive and less regretful.”
5. Organize, but retain reason. If you’re unhappy with the election results, it can be healthy to join a grassroots organization, become more politically aware and active in the future, and use your voice. But Slawsby says it’s crucial to do so in a measured, non-radical way.
“Find your voice, use your voice, but use it in manners that are sanctioned by the laws and rules of our country,” she cautions. “Make sure the next presidential campaign is different. Have an impact on upcoming congressional seats in two years. There’s many things that we can do as American citizens.”
6. Be kind to yourself. Take time today to do something positive for yourself and others, Slawsby suggests. Keep an appreciation journal of three good things that happen each day. Plan your holiday party. Go for a run. Treat yourself to your favorite dessert. Do whatever makes you happy, even if you’re still upset by the results.
“Do not get pulled down by this,” Slawsby says. “Your life is good and will continue.”
If you need immediate mental health assistance, call the Samaritans 24-Hour Hotline at 617-247-0220, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.