Dealing with the Emotional Fallout Post-Election, Or How to Move Forward with a Trump Presidency
At the gym recently, I witnessed two grown men get into a physical debate over the recent election results. One man was enraged over the fact that his old friend voted for Donald Trump. The Trump supporter was, naturally, defending his position. As the anger boiled, the Clinton supporter shouted, “We are not friends any longer. I can’t believe you could put a racist narcissist in the White House!” To which, the Trump supporter put him in a head lock and said, “Shut your mouth!” At that point, three other men came over to break up the fledgling fight and the two men separated.
And this is where we find ourselves after the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. Friends are turning on one another. Facebook friends are being unfollowed. The FBI just reported that hate crimes have increased in the past week. Hillary supporters are reporting chest pain, panic attacks, sleep loss, depression, anger and suicidal thoughts. Half the country is in shock and denial. The other half is celebrating. And relationships seem to be at the breaking point. It feels as if there is no positive future for half the U.S. population.
So how do we move forward as one country? How do Democrats get past the feelings of intense dread, anxiety, rage, depression and disgust?
Here are three scientifically-proven ways to move forward during dark times:
1.) Adjust your mindset
2.) Reframe the situation
Part of the solution has to do with the powerful concept of mindset. A mindset is a lens through which we see the external world (e.g., the election) and internal experiences (e.g., thoughts and feelings). A mindset is a set of attitudes, assumptions and beliefs that are learned and which influence our interpretations and responses to these internal and external events.
Here is an exercise to demonstrate. Imagine you wear a set of sunglasses that have dark gray lenses in them. Assume you wear these glasses for a week, all day long; only taking them off when you sleep and bathe. After a week, how do you think the world might look to you? Most likely, based on one hundred years of research on how color affects our perceptions, the world would look darker, depressing, and more foreboding. Now imagine you have sunglasses with pink lenses. You wear these glasses for a week. After the week, most people are likely to see the world more optimistically, happier and more cheerful. Finally, imagine you wear sunglasses with deep blue lenses for seven days. You look at a ripe lemon. What color is the lemon? With the glasses on, you will see the lemon as green. But, in reality, the lemon is yellow. Just because it looks green, does not mean it IS green. You are merely seeing the lemon through a different lens.
The lenses in the glasses are like our mindsets. Sometimes we have unhelpful mindsets which lead to anger and sadness and make our lives more difficult and painful.
What are Some of Your Pre-Trump Mindsets?
What are some of the mindsets you have about Donald Trump as President? What thoughts go through your mind? For most Democrats, the thoughts may sound like this…
“How could this possibly have happened?”
“How can I explain this to my children?”
“But Hillary won the popular vote!”
“How can such a person be President of the U.S.?”
These are all examples of mindsets, lenses though which you view the outcome of the election. And all these mindsets will increase your irritation, sadness, stress and anger.
Attention and emotion are deeply linked. What you pay attention to influences how you feel. And how you feel influences that to which you attend. So the big question is …Upon what do you focus?
Your best strategy is to focus on things that you can control: your thoughts, your actions, your breath. That’s it. That’s the extent of what you control. You cannot control what Trump does as President. You cannot control the people he picks for Supreme Court nominees. And the more you focus on those things out of your control, the more enraged and anxious you get.
Reframe the Situation
Another helpful way to deal with this situation is to reframe it… “The best use of my time is to focus on what I can control. I can use this time to breathe deeply to calm myself. I will pray for those who are causing me distress and wish them well. And then I’ll think kind thoughts for people in Congress, the new President, the Supreme Court judges.” And you pray to whatever God you believe in to grant Trump compassion, wisdom, grace and insight. So there are two parts to changing your mindset:
- Cognitive (i.e., change your thinking)
- Behavioral (i.e., change your behavior)
First, you change your thinking and then you change your behavior. So change your thoughts and then DO it (i.e., pray for our leadership).
Mindfully Label and Release the Emotion(s)
If you are a Democrat, give yourself time to grieve the outcome. Recognize and label the emotions that you experience during the day. Common emotions include disgust, anger, rage, indignance, sadness, confusion, shock, fear, anxiety, depression, panic, embarrassment, shame and terror. According to research, the mere act of putting the proper label on an emotion will reduce its intensity. The next step is to practice letting the emotion go. The best way to do this is using visualization. For example, imagine breathing in a white light in through your nostrils. Imagine that the white light is infused with peacefulness and serenity. Breathe in for four seconds. Hold it for 1-2 seconds. Then breathe out through your mouth for 5-6 seconds. While breathing out, imagine you are breathing out thick, black smoke which is filled with that anger, sadness or fear you were just feeling. It is important to breathe out for longer than you breathe in as this activates the parasympathetic nervous system – the relaxation response.
Without training, the mind wants to take us to a negative past and a negative future. This is due to the negativity bias. Your mind will naturally focus on negative events from the past and worry about bad things that may happen in the future. When this happens, remind yourself that you are okay, right now. Everything is okay, right now. Then bring your attention to your breath to bring you back to the present moment. Each time your mind attempts to take you to a scary future, simply bring your attention back to your breath.
Another important step to work on is evoking empathy and compassion for the “others” – whether they are Republicans, Democrats, Muslims, Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, men, women, Mexicans, Syrians, Russians or whichever group with whom you are struggling.
Empathy is the ability to understand or feel what another person is feeling. It is the ability to put oneself in another person’s shoes. People vary in the extent to which they experience empathy – from no empathy, to well-balanced empathy, to excessive empathy which can be harmful to self or others
Consider empathy as existing on a 10-point scale, ranging from no empathy (a 1) to well-balanced empathy (a 5) to too much empathy (a 10).
<1———————————————— 5 ————————————————- 10>
No empathy Well-balanced empathy Too much empathy
Developing More Empathy
To develop greater empathy, here are six tips you can practice:
1. Get beyond labels that are a short cut to thinking (e.g., ‘Spaniard”, “Republican”, “single mother”, “Muslim”, “greedy stock broker”, etc.). The first step is to be aware of your use of such labels. The second step is to nurture your curiosity to go beyond these simple labels. Go deeper. Be intensely curious about others. Challenge your prejudices. The third step is to look for similarities between you and others; not the differences. One of the reasons I love emotions is that, at an emotional level, we are all the same. We all feel sadness, desire, contentment, fear, anger and hope. On an emotional level, we are all the same.
2. Practice empathizing with people whose views you don’t share. For example, you might try empathizing with Republicans if you are a Democrat (or vice-versa). Or you might try empathizing with a Muslim if you are a Christian (and vice-versa). This practice challenges you to push the boundaries of your empathy zone to include people who are different from you in a significant way. However, despite the differences, everyone is still part of the same species.
3. Practice the art of conversation. Listen better. Ask questions. Share deeper, emotional parts of your own story. Practice vulnerability. Step into your own discomfort.
4. Practice loving kindness to extend your empathy and compassion to your city, your nation and ultimately, every creature in the world. “May President Trump be wise. May he be compassionate. May he be kind.”
5. Practice changing your personal narrative about who resides in your in-group. In terms of human development, we have gone from extending empathy within our tribe, to a single town, to a religion, to a nation. Why stop there? Extend your empathy to the world, to our entire species.
6. Try stepping outside yourself and seeing the world through the eyes of others. Visit places where people different from yourself live. This doesn’t have to be going to another country necessarily. It might be going to the nearest big city and walking through different sections of town. The goal is to expand your moral universe by meeting people from all walks of life, all cultures.
If you are in need of more assistance for extreme anxiety or anger, please take a look at Dr. John’s online anger management classes and his online anxiety management class at the store at WebAngerManagement.com. These classes teach essential skills to turn down the volume on negative emotions at a fraction of the cost of a therapist.
About the Author – Dr. John Schinnerer
Dr. John Schinnerer, an expert in positive psychology and anger management, is revolutionizing the way in which people make sense of the mind, behavior and emotion. Dr. Schinnerer was one of three experts to consult with Pixar on the Academy Award-winning movie, Inside Out. He has developed a unique coaching methodology which combines the best aspects of entertainment, humor, sports psychology, positive psychology and emotional management techniques. His offices are in Danville, California. He graduated from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in educational psychology. He is an award-winning author of the book, How Can I Be Happy? He has been a speaker and coach for over 16 years. Dr. John’s blog, Shrunken Mind, was recognized as one of the top 3 in positive psychology on the web (drjohnblog.guidetoself.com). Dr. John hosts an online anger management class using positive psychology at WebAngerManagement.com. He offers an online anxiety management class.