7 Ways To Unwind From Post-Election Stress After A Toxic Election Season

Photo: pathdoc/shutterstock
sad woman staring at phone on counter

Perhaps the most important word in the diagnostic phrase “Post Traumatic Stress” is the first one: “post.”

Regardless of who you voted for in the US 2020 election, or what you believe in, it's been a rollercoaster election season. The sum of all the parts including the rancorous rhetoric, ferocious fights, petulant protests, and more, adds up to an enormous grand total of human pain and suffering.

Many right now would meet the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder because of post-election stress syndrome.

And all the pain and stress doesn’t just go away because the election is over. Many will still wake up in the middle of the night after having a nightmare, or reach for their phone at 3 a.m. to read their Twitter feed.

RELATED: Majority Of USA Suffering From Election Stress Disorder, Says Survey

Post-election stress syndrome is real — and many are still reeling from it, even now.

Many will feel exhausted, numb, anxious, scared, and helpless as they anticipate a contentious transition of power. Some initially celebrated while others protested, it’s the “what comes next” that will keep many still up at night

A common misconception is the notion that once something “toxic” is over, that everything is going to be all right. But for most, this just isn’t the case. Why is that?

Because a toxic relationship — whether it’s one with a partner or one with a politician, party, or election — changes your brain.

The many highs and lows of excitement, devastation, and exhaustion create a kind of “set point” that reorganizes your entire inner-psychic system.

You’ve been living day in and day out in a way that has kept you in a constant state of “hyperarousal” or “fight or flight.” And this relationship has been, for better or worse, emotionally intimate and hardwired into your way of being.

Now, suddenly, the person or politician or event that has stimulated your inner-psychic system is now gone. And while a strong part of you and the people aligned with you would say “good riddance,” your set point doesn’t know this yet.

You've lost something that had become an important part of your life, even if you hated it. There was, for better or worse, an attachment — albeit an unhealthy one — that has now been broken.

And this is why, for example, it takes most people who suffer from addiction several attempts to give up alcohol or drugs. It’s also why people often go back to that toxic or abusive partner many more times before they finally leave for good.

It’s so important right now to pay attention each and every day, to where you are in your grieving process, whether or not the candidate you voted for won or lost.

There are a few simple ways you can be intentional and conscientious in your grieving process as you move forward.

Here are 8 ways you can recover from post-election stress syndrome.

1. Practice being present.

You can take time each day to close your eyes, bring one hand to your heart and the other to your stomach, and just follow the natural rise and fall of your breath.

Notice if it’s shallow and short, or better yet, notice if you're holding it. Both are a sign that you are living in a fight-or-flight state. See if you can follow your breath cycle for 10 breaths — more, if you’d like.

As you focus and tune in to your breath, it will start to slow down. And when your breathing slows down, your mind will start to slow down, too. Do this exercise two to three times a day for the next 30 days and watch how you will begin to crave the quiet.

RELATED: If You Voted For Trump, You Betrayed Me — And Our Country

2. Ground yourself.

Try taking five to 10 minutes a day to ground yourself. Lay on a yoga mat with your legs leaning up against the wall.

There’s a saying, “when your life feels upside down, then go upside down!” This restorative yoga pose both mirrors your inner chaos while helping you become calm and grounded.

You can even place a blanket over your body and an eye pillow over your eyes to help you self-soothe.

3. Use aromatherapy essential oils.

Some are stimulating, while others are soothing. Whether you need to unwind or find some quick-start energy to get you through your next task, pick your potion, and take note of which ones help you the most.

4. Scan your body each and every day for tension.

Notice where you're holding tension, and just put your focus and breath into those tense spots. They may not go away, but see if they can soften.

5. Empathize with yourself and your feelings.

See if you can have compassion and acceptance for all the complicated parts and feelings you may be experiencing.

Try journaling about them each and every day, and when you are done, hold your journal to your heart for a few breaths. This is a kinesthetic way to show your inner self, and all it’s complicated parts, self-compassion.

6. Take time each week to unwind in nature.

There’s nothing like spending 20 minutes listening to the sounds of ocean waves, birds chirping, or the wind rustling through the leaves.

7. Limit your social media and news intake.

This is a tough one, but remember, all the simple, good things that happen each and every day don’t usually make it on sensationalized platforms.

Those platforms keep you hooked with all the drama because they need your constant attention for you to see what their advertising sponsors want you to see and buy.

8. Keep it up.

And last but not least, rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. Keep practicing patience and compassion with yourself as you grieve this toxic loss.

You can transform your pain into passion and a new and better way to live and relate to others.

All of these reasons are why it will take many people a lot of time and self-care to help them unwind from this election season to create a new quieter and healthier “set point.”

One of the hardest things people have to learn how to do in life, regardless of whether or not it’s an election year, is to grieve. This is so, because no matter how you slice it, life is filled with loss. Some losses are wanted. Many are not.

And just as grieving is a process where people cycle and recycle through various stages of grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance, not taking the time to grieve and embrace each phase, will keep your emotional “set point” stuck at toxic levels.

Moving on after toxic and traumatic loss is never easy.

But there are many rewards for venturing down the path of conscientious and intentional grieving.

These include the self-awareness and wisdom that you learn about yourself as you work towards that goal of moving on and the self-confidence you will gain when you reach it.

Grieving loss is how you finish up those painful chapters of your life. And once you really grieve and finish those chapters, you can then turn the page, and start writing a new one.

RELATED: How To Go Back To Loving Your Friends And Family After The Election

Maura Matarese, M.A., LMHC, R.Y.T. is a psychotherapist and author practicing in Sudbury, MA. If you're unwinding from this toxic election or a toxic partner, check out her book: Finding Hope In The Crisis: A Therapist's Perspective On Love, Loss, and Courage or check out her online course: Finding Hope After Heartbreak: Learn The Secret How To Get Over Your Ex And Start Feeling Better Now.