I would like this blog to speak to both Trump supporters and Clinton supporters, because on either side of this election, emotions seem to be running high. What I want to speak about is managing your election-related emotions, whatever those emotions may be. Being able to manage your emotions is an important skill to have now in these difficult times as well as for any period of your life when intense emotions have the potential to cause harm.
I’ve heard people expressing anger, despair, hatred, fear, and anxiety. Most people can’t handle these painful feelings for long. Prolonged exposure to painful feelings can give you an ulcer, put too much pressure on your heart, ruin your sleep and damage relationships. With the holidays coming up, it’s a good time to get your emotions under control so that you don’t destroy important relationships. Whatever side of this divided country you’re on, you need to manage your emotions so that you and others don’t get hurt or behave in ways that you would regret.
It’s time to take care of yourself so that you can think clearly.
Imagine that you’re a parent taking care of a beloved child who is very distressed. You would comfort that child. You would hold them while they cried, allowing them to expel their emotional energy in a safe way, asking them questions so that you both can get a better understanding of what they’re feeling. You would talk soothingly to them, offering hope for the future. You might also talk about things they could do to make themselves feel better. And if all that wasn’t enough, you could get distract them from their painful feelings by getting an ice cream and taking them to a movie.
When you’re an adult, you have to do all of these loving, caring things for yourself. And when you’re feeling better, you may be able to help others too.
Whether its sadness or anger, you need to hold and contain these feelings, instead of letting them run the show. Find a quiet place to be alone or with someone that can be quiet and sympathetic, and let the feelings out. Choose wisely who you share your feelings with so that you don’t choose someone who aggravates and exacerbates the intense feelings. You want to modulate the feelings down to a manageable intensity not stir them up. Keep breathing into the feeling. Touch it and let it go. The intensity of the feeling will eventually run its course, leaving you feeling somewhat drained.
Don’t try to stop or suppress the feeling. If there are tears…let them flow. If there is anger express it in words as or by punching a pillow.
Ask Yourself Questions
Asking yourself questions helps moves your feelings from your heart to your brain. And you need your brain to be involved! It helps to have words to describe what you’re feeling. When I’m overcome with emotion and I can’t put my finger on what it’s about, it can feel so big, so overwhelming and out of my control. When I understand what I’m feeling, I’m more able to soothe those feelings and think of actions that I can take to feel better.
Ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” and listen to the answers. There may be many. “I’m feeling angry. I’m feeling sad. I’m feeling scared.” Go further. “What am I angry about? What am I sad about? What am I afraid of?” Once again, take the time to really listen to your answers. If you listen closely enough, your answers might surprise you.
It may help to actually write your responses down. Sometimes I’ll be trying to follow a thought but then another thought will pop in and I’ll lose the trail of the previous thought. When you write down your thoughts you don’t have to worry about losing the thread because it’s written down in front of you. Don’t judge, don’t edit, just let your thoughts flow. By the time you’re done writing, the feelings swirling inside you be more distinct and manageable.
What would a good parent say? You’re alright. You’ll be okay. You’ll survive. No one knows if this is true, of course, but it very well may be true. The benefits of believing that you’re going to be okay are worth the risk of being wrong. People who believe in their ability to overcome a trauma recover much better from trauma than those who didn’t believe in themselves. Another study (Carver and Sheier, 1999) showed that the more positive people expected their futures to be, the better their mood, the fewer their psychiatric symptoms, and the better their adjustment to diverse situations. So believing that there is hope can actually have a big impact on your life.
Hope does not mean being in denial and ignoring your feelings. Your feelings are there to keep you safe and help you understand yourself. It’s important to be aware of your feelings. It’s not good to immediately react to your feelings, unless they’re alerting you of imminent danger. You need to be able to bring your intelligence in to think through your feelings wisely. Face reality, stay aware of your feelings, and hope for the best.
The feeling of helplessness often accompanies negative feelings, making you feel even worse. Fight the feeling of helplessness by taking some action. Make a list of actions you could take that would make you feel better. These actions can be anything from getting support from friends, helping others, or making your voice heard through conversation, writing or protesting. Some people find relief by thinking about the worst case scenario and making a plan to deal with it.
It may feel like you’re helpless, but it isn’t true. Even changing the way you’re coping with your feelings is helpful.
Give Yourself a Break
Take a break from social media and heated conversations. In fact, maybe you should take a break from your own thoughts. Mindfulness meditation or other forms of meditation can help you shift your brain away from your negative thoughts. I like to take mindfulness walks, where I attempt to quiet the chatter in my head by focusing instead on my breathing, the sun on my face, the wind, the fragrances of the flowers. I try to notice as much as I can in the present moment: barking dogs, buzzing lawn mowers, accelerating cars, rattling keys in my hand. There are some mornings where my mind is like a dog on a leash, straining to chase after an aggravating squirrel of a thought. Over and over again I notice my mind’s desire to chase these negative thoughts and gently bring it back to my breathing. Resting in the peace of the present moment gives your brain the break that it needs to recover and get re-energized.
These are challenging times and intense emotions may flare up repeatedly. Coping with our emotions will help everyone think rationally and behave responsibly and that will be better for all of us.
If you’re interested in learning how psychotherapy can help you, contact Rena Pollak, LMFT for a free 15 minute phone consultation. I have a private practice in Encino and Tarzana.
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