But, as usual, Americans remain split on the outcome. There are thousands dancing in the streets, smacking pots and pans and popping bottles with famous filmmakers to celebrate Joe Biden’s projected win. Others are grieving the results publicly and privately, preparing for what could be a lengthy legal process lodged by President Donald Trump to delegitimize the election results.
All that’s to say — our national stress episode is not yet over. But if 2020 has proven anything, it’s that we’re capable of handling more than we know.
Here’s how to navigate these next few post-election weeks with grace, civility and a modicum of calm.
Process the news in a healthy way
Celebrate (or mourn) with likeminded people. So, we have a new President-elect — that’s either a welcome relief or a nightmare realized, depending on who you voted for. It’s best to process your immediate emotions about the election with people who share your views, said Tania Israel, a professor in the Department of Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Being with like-minded people will help you validate your feelings, no matter how you feel.
Log off. If you, like millions of others, found yourself glued to cable news or Twitter last week, you may want to tune it out for a bit to avoid a media hangover, Israel said. Do things you find restorative, whether that’s taking a walk or calling family — anything that releases the tension you carried throughout the week of the election. The news will still be there when you get back.
Address your stress
Practice mindfulness. You may resist this advice every time you hear it, but meditation works, said Kate Sweeny, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, who leads a lab that studies waiting and uncertainty. Look for guided meditation on apps like Calm or Headspace or try on your own. Meditation is particularly helpful for those of us prone to “mental time travel,” or thinking ahead by running through often negative scenarios, Sweeny said.
Find your flow. If you’re struggling to cope with uncertainty, try to enter a state of “flow,” what Sweeny describes as “being in the zone.” You can enter a flow state by doing something that fully engages you and helps you lose track of time, be it your work, a hobby or time with loved ones. Anyone can do it, Sweeny said — just find something that challenges you the right amount and keeps you occupied.
Turn stress into a superpower. Believe it or not, your anxiety can be useful if you find the right place for it, Sweeny said. Stress can empower us to act and find solutions to problems that plague us, whether that’s related to the election or not. “I think it’s helpful … if you’re particularly anxious about some particular outcome, to think of ways to ensure a better outcome,” she said.
Feel your feelings. If you’re stressed about what the future may bring, that’s OK, Sweeny said. “Feeling kind of terrible is very natural” in stressful situations like the 2020 presidential election, she said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re thinking about this wrong or coping worse than you should be. It’s a really stressful time, so keep an eye on your mental health.”
Avoid social media squabbles
Comment with caution. Facebook in the weeks after the election can feel like a political minefield. Israel suggests you think before you comment on an acquaintance’s politically incendiary post — not only will your comment likely not convince them of your position, she said, it could drive them deeper into their own beliefs. Israel cited research that found social media users exposed to opposing views on social media usually ended up feeling more strongly about their own views as a result.
Take it offline. If someone posts a cruel comment on one of your social media posts about the election, ask them to talk about it over the phone or in person, Israel suggests. The “only useful comment” you can make on someone’s Facebook post is to invite them to a conversation offline, she said.
Approach political divisions with empathy
Have perspective: It’s easy to villainize people on the opposing side, Israel said, and make assumptions about them based on who they voted for. But that information, while relevant, doesn’t paint a complete picture of those people. Israel suggests you avoid passing judgment on people with different opinions until you’ve discussed those opinions respectfully.
Be open to dialogue: Ask your loved ones who hold different political views why they feel the way they do, suggested Israel, whose research focuses on how to bridge partisan divides. An open conversation gives you an opportunity to understand that person better. Listen to reflect rather than to retort, she said, and the other person should offer you the same respect when it’s time to share your opinion.
Don’t write off family just yet: The holidays, though they may look a bit different during the pandemic, inevitably bring with them familial fracases over politics. But before you block family members who’ve offended you, consider your connection with them, Israel recommends. Are there aspects of your relationship that could outlast this political moment? Try to understand their perspective within the context of their experiences rather than your own, she said — you don’t have to continue your relationship with them, but you may want to think about how you can mend it before you cut them off completely. The election may fade, but family is forever.