5 Ways to Help Election Trauma

Our election night party kicked off with chatter and anticipation. Bowls of chips, guacamole and pico de gallo piled the coffee table, a culinary nose-thumbing toward the Republican candidate. Our guests included a ninety-six-year-old woman who cast her first vote for FDR, an African-American woman from Harlem, a woman of Turkish-Arab descent, and a 24-year-old law student. Three of us wore all white. My husband and another close male friend completed the group, all of us ready to cheer on the country’s first woman president.

By midnight one friend was in tears. Another obsessively cleaned my kitchen to drown out CNN. Yet another fled the apartment to walk my dog. The last phoned all her organizer contacts in Ohio, Michigan, and North Carolina to find out what on planet earth was happening.

This morning, in phone calls, texts and emails, we shared our feeling of numbness, stupefaction, and inability to cope with the day. I belong to half a dozen Facebook women’s writing groups. There, the word being used is “wordlessness.”

The result of this election has produced emotional shock, what psychologists call an “acute stress reaction.” It’s the emotional equivalent of medical shock, which drops your blood pressure and can be life threatening.

Emotional shock is what happens when you learn a family member has cancer, when a pet dies, or when you are fired from a job. The symptoms: You feel disoriented; you may not be able to think straight or make decisions; you can’t focus. You feel suddenly thrust into a new reality that was never “supposed” to happen. You may have physical symptoms such as insomnia, racing heartbeat, or fatigue. For those who have echoes from the past, such as a similar childhood trauma, the effects can be amplified.

Like a patient recently diagnosed, you may turn to Google for answers. With election-night trauma, instead of searching for prognoses and symptoms, you might find yourself typing, “impeachment,” or “limits on executive power.”

Here are some things experts recommend to help with emotional shock:

1. Get up and get out

Your nervous system can get “stuck” in arousal and fear. Going for a walk will help dissipate the adrenaline.

2. Calm your nerves

As most who do yoga and meditation know, you have a surprising amount of control over your own nervous system. If you know how, try mindful breathing. If this is new to you, look up “guided meditation” wherever you get your music or podcasts.

3. Take care of yourself

Today would be the day to make sure you drink enough water, eat well, and get a good night’s rest.

4. Write

For those writer friends who find themselves “wordless,” put a few sentences down on paper. I can attest from this short post, it helps.

5. Be around others

You may want to avoid this because you don’t want to talk about what just happened. That’s fine. Rehashing the news may make things worse. But a feeling of connecting with others will relieve your numbness, fear and isolation.

Both last night and this morning, everyone from our the election party said, if things were going to turn out this way, we’re glad, at least, we have each other.

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