It has been a little over a week since Donald Trump lost the popular vote but won the electoral college delegates needed for the 2016 Presidential election. Civil rights groups have reported hundreds of hate crimes against women, racial minorities, and Muslims. Trump supporters have also reported harassment and violence against them. (I highly recommend watching the video in that link; Rev. Kelsey Hutto’s response is wonderful.)
So many people, including myself, are still trying to absorb the idea of a Trump Presidency. So I believe this is a great opportunity to talk about resiliency and coping skills under severe stress. There are three major identified responses when someone is under great stress or a perceived threat: Fight, Flight, or Freeze.
The Fight response involves taking action against a perceived threat or danger. In this case, it is mobilizing people to protest in the streets, protest online by posting articles and videos, organize, and donate money to worthwhile organizations. Unfortunately, the Fight response can cause some people to become frustrated and angry, and commit acts of violence.
Psychologically, Fight is often the best survival choice because it is active. However, it is important to consider strategic and focus on things within your control. It can be difficult to set up realistic expectations and appropriate responses to stress or danger. The Fight response can be a reflex and save us from a real threat, but it can also be maladaptive if it is directed at someone who is no danger. Displacement of your reaction can cause great harm, especially if you are upset with family and friends. Critical thinking from a cool, resourceful place is what is called for. A thoughtful evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses, and likely outcomes of an action are wise.
The Flight response involves running away- physically, mentally, or emotionally. It can be a sense of hopelessness and giving up and disappearing from the danger or threat. This is wise to do if there is overwhelming force: being outnumbered, someone who has a gun, knife or is just out of control violent. The wise person looks to avoid even being in a situation with such a person, but always scouts an escape route. In extreme form, I have heard some people talk about wanting to move from the USA. Not a good strategy, in my opinion. Nor is escaping into drugs and alcohol or having suicidal impulses. Get help immediately if you are having thought of hurting yourself or anyone else.
Flight responses may be adaptive in certain ways. Timing is important. For example, taking a break from all political news and discussion for a few days or weeks may be a healthy way to deal with the immediate stress of an unfavorable election outcome. Or limit your news intake to a very bare minimum. Do not read social media things late at night. Seven to nine hours of sleep is what most adults require to awake refreshed. You can come back later, ready to engage again when you are resourced. However, I believe checking out from political news indefinitely can result in escapism. If you aren’t sure, get some professional help. It helps to have an objective person to help “reality-test.”
The Freeze response can involve dissociation, overwhelming feelings of helplessness, physical paralyzation, and numbness. Psychology Today has a great article on how Freezing can be adaptive or maladaptive.
What are some tangible ways to cope with post-election stress, or any other stress? Deep breathing, meditation, walking in nature, playing with kids or pets, taking bubble baths, massage, exercise and physical activity, music, spending time with family and friends, and finding support in faith based (or atheist/humanist) communities are just a few examples. Find what works for you. Ask yourself, “What do I need to be functional?” Mental health professionals can help you come up with healthy coping mechanisms. You can also check out this list of resources from the American Counseling Association.
Still, we want to be good citizens of the planet. We can’t turn off the news forever. It’s all about pacing. Take care of yourself, so that you can take care of others.
I am hopeful that we can make good things come out of this situation. It’s an opportunity to examine “fake news,” learn about undue influence, garner support for worthy causes, and open up more constructive dialogues about racism and sexism.