Sometime this week, millions of Americans will learn that their candidate for president lost. Before we heal as a nation, we’ve got to start healing as individuals. So many people who voted for the losing side will have passionately supported Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or another candidate. How do we get over this? It will take patience, empathy and effort. To help with that, USA TODAY sought out expert advice on how to deal with post-election dejection.
Here’s the 12-step action plan:
Feel free to scream. Just don’t do it in a public place. “If you are really, really upset and want to yell, go in the bathroom and close the door and yell,” says psychotherapist Fran Sherman. “You have to get it out.” This type of “verbal vomit” can be helpful, she says: “I equate it to when you are sick to your stomach and you let it out and you feel better.” Not a screamer? Aerobic activity, which will release feel-good endorphins, is a good way to shed some angst, she says.
Practice acceptance. Feel better after that therapeutic scream? Good. Now you can think more clearly and face the facts. “You don’t have to like it to accept that it’s the reality,” says psychologist Vaile Wright, who is a member of the American Psychological Association's Stress in America team. “Say to yourself, ‘I don’t like this outcome, but this is the way it is and I’m going to move forward.' Fighting it is just going to prolong one’s disappointment.”
Take action. Decide what you can do to make a difference, says Wright. For instance, volunteer with a group that supports an election issue that was important to you. “Disappointment can motivate us to action – ideally in a positive way,” she says. This can make people feel empowered, adds psychologist Mary Alvord. “You’re not helpless, you’re not a victim,” she says. “Focus on what you can control. ...Take your passion and put it into some kind of action.”
Create an exit plan. No — not to leave the country. Have a strategy that lets you gracefully exit any anxiety-provoking political conversation, politely change the topic or ably defuse tension. It may be saying something like, “We’ve got to take this one day at a time,” agreeing to disagree on a subject or offering your own post-election stress-relieving tips, says psychologist Nancy Molitor. “The idea is to not escalate the conversation and to remain neutral,” she says.
Heed your early-warning signs. “Pay attention to your body and your brain,” says Molitor. “If you start to think, ‘This person is an idiot’ and ‘I can’t believe they are saying this,’ recognize that it’s only going to escalate.” There are signs when we start to get worked up, such as a tight throat, a dry mouth, a tight back or a shrill voice, so “know your triggers,” she advises.
Manage your exposure. “We all know who those problem people are in our lives, whether it’s the guy in the cubicle next to us at work or the cousin on Facebook who keeps talking about a candidate,” Molitor says. If certain in-person conversations, social media posts or TV outlets fuel aggravation or depression, then avoid those or limit exposure. “If two people at work are spouting things, then avoid getting into a conversation with them,” she says. “Don’t engage.”
Think broadly. “Try to understand that people are not crazy just because they are supporting another side,” Molitor says. “It doesn’t make them a villain.” Practice kindness and empathy, says David Palmiter, a professor of psychology at Marywood University in Scranton, Pa. Sure, it can be challenging at times, but “it is possible to be empathetic with someone and disagree with their thoughts,” he says. “People who are therapists learn that quickly.”
Build a support system. It’s OK to vent — people want their feelings to be heard and acknowledged, says Palmiter. Just do it in a healthy, self-controlled way. “Talk to other people who you think are positive and support you,” advises psychologist Alvord.
Slow down and self-soothe. This is an ideal time to try meditation. “It’s not nearly as hard as people think,” says psychologist Elaine Ducharme. Too woo-woo for you? Then employ other relaxation methods such as listening to music, lying on a beach or even riding a motorcycle, if that’s what gives you some inner peace, she says.
Be thankful. Think of what you are grateful for, even if it’s just small things, says psychotherapist Sherman. It can be “I’m grateful that it’s a sunny day” or “I’m grateful to have good friends,” she says. “When you feed your brain that positive information, you feel better.”
Get some perspective. “Turn on a comedy, watch a classic movie or turn off the TV and go for a walk,” suggests Molitor. “Be with your animals or kids or grandkids. Do something to get out of that silo.” Remember, “there are checks and balances in the system,” she says, so “try to keep the big picture. ... Life will go on. It may go on differently, but it will go on.”
Model good behavior. This is a great opportunity to show children how to deal with disappointment. "We can teach kids to be a gracious loser," says Alvord. That good behavior can go beyond educating kids. "Whether or not you are in a leadership position, have co-workers or fellow students, we all set examples for each other with positive ways to cope," she says. And there is a payoff for all that discipline: "Typically, we feel good when we help others, and we definitely feel a sense of accomplishment when we exhibit self-control," Alvord says. Here's an added bonus: By doing those things, we strengthen our own resilience, she says.