You’ve watched in horror as roughly half the country supported the presidential candidate you oppose and possibly loathe. You’ve railed at TV and radio news reports that seemed to swing the election against your candidate. And you’ve anxiously followed each dip and rise in your candidate’s polling numbers.
The acrimonious campaign between Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton has taxed the emotional health of people who support both candidates – and people who despise the opposing politician. For months, therapists throughout the country have been hearing from their patients, many of whom are upset and even angry at the prospect of either candidate as president. But come Tuesday night – barring an unlikely cliff-hanging circumstance – Trump or Clinton will become the president-elect, to the deep consternation of many.
In October, the American Psychological Association released a survey conducted by the Harris Poll that found 52 percent of American adults reported the presidential campaign is a very or somewhat significant source of stress. “There’s a lot of polarization. This has been one of the most, if not the most, contentious presidential elections in our history. Whoever wins, a lot of people are going to be very anxious and unhappy,” says Dr. Mason Turner, director of outpatient mental health and addiction medicine for Kaiser Permanente – Northern California, based in Oakland, California.
Throw a “defeat” party.
While some people on the winning side will celebrate their victory, voters on the losing side can throw a gathering that is cathartic and fun, says Nadine Kaslow, a professor and vice chair for faculty development in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
A defeat party provides people a chance to commiserate about their shared loss and foster a sense of camaraderie among people who have similar views and values. People should be careful not to revel in their feelings of loss for too long. “You don’t want to throw a pity party for four years,” Kaslow says.
Maintain your normal routine and engage in healthy activities.
In times of disappointment, it’s important to maintain your regular routine and find ways to participate in activities that provide balance in your life, says psychologist Dana Lipsky, who works with individuals and couples in Arlington, a Virginia suburb just outside the District of Columbia.
“When we feel sad, depressed or down we tend to withdraw, become inactive and stop participating in things that could help lift our spirits,” Lipsky says. “This can be a vicious cycle and make us feel even worse.” Exercising is a good way to boost your mood, because it prompts the release of endorphins that help induce feelings of well-being.
Choose who to talk to about the election carefully.
If you have friends, relatives or co-workers who hold extreme political views opposite from your own and are unwilling or unable to engage in an open and respectful discussion, it’s probably best to avoid talking about the election with them, says Bart Rossi, a psychologist based in Naples, Florida, who writes often about the psychology of political issues. “It will be a toxic conversation that won’t go anywhere,” Rossi says. “You’re better off talking about the Chicago Cubs.”
But if you know someone from the other side of the political divide who is willing to consider other opinions and discuss his or her own beliefs in a civil manner, talking with that person about the campaign could be a fruitful discussion, Rossi says.
Maintain your perspective.
If a candidate you loathe wins the election, it may feel like the consequences will be apocalyptic – but they probably won’t be, says Dr. Anne Gilbert, a psychiatrist at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. Remember, the U.S. government has three branches of government, with checks and balances. The odds that the winning candidate will be able to quickly enact sweeping reforms are probably long.
“It may feel like all these dramatic things will happen, but most likely they will not,” Gilbert says. “We tend to catastrophize how bad things are now.”
Keep your emotions in check.
Don’t let your feelings get the best of you, says Jan Bruce, chief executive officer of meQuillibrium.com, a Boston-based company that provides digital coaching to help people become more resilient.
“Don’t let emotions run your show,” Bruce says. “You may be feeling anxious or angry, but acknowledge that and put it aside so it doesn’t affect the rest of your day.” Try to be present in the moment while keeping in mind that things might look and feel a lot different a week later. Remember that you’ve worked through difficult times before.
Start working on behalf of a political candidate or cause you believe in, Bruce says. That could mean canvassing for a local or state candidate or advocating for a specific political cause, or volunteering at a soup kitchen or animal shelter. Being productive on behalf of something or someone you believe in will help keep you on a positive path.
Limit your intake of news and social media.
If you feel distressed by the outcome of the election, limit your consumption of campaign news, Lipsky says. For the moment, cut down on reading newspapers, don’t watch as much political news on TV, move your radio dial away from stations that will be full of campaign news and commentary, and limit your consumption of Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms that are likely to be full of election material.
It may be beneficial to set aside a specific amount of time – perhaps 30 minutes a day – to allot to election coverage to avoid feeling overloaded. This limit allows you to create emotional and physical space to focus on other things, which will help you achieve a more balanced state of mind, Lipsky says.
Write a gratitude list.
Jotting down 10 to 15 things you are grateful for – such as your health or your family – can help you maintain perspective, Turner says. The list will remind you of the people and things that provide you with strength and support. “This works whenever you are going through any stress in your life.
Several experts also had a word of advice for people who are on the winning side: Don’t gloat. “I think gloaters need to watch it and understand this will be a sensitive topic for other people,” Kaslow says. “Gloating can hurt your relationships and credibility, and it’s not very appealing.”
Your Presidential Candidate Lost. How To Cope With The Crushing Disappointment was originally published on U.S. News & World Report.