How to Function Again After Your Candidate Loses

By Carla Naumburg, PhD
By Carla NaumburgPublished on 11/09/2016 at 12:00 PM EDT

Approximately half of our country woke up this morning to devastating election results. If my social media feeds are any indication, millions of Americans are walking around in a haze of fear and anger. We’re exhausted and confused.

There is much that needs to be figured out, sorted out, and acted on in the coming days, weeks, and months, but for now we just need to get functional again. Here are a few ideas to help you get your feet back on the ground:

  • Focus on what you absolutely know to be true, as often as you can throughout the day. Here is what I know: I know the sun came up this morning, I know that my coffee is hot, I know that my yard is covered with leaves I have no desire to rake, and I know that I had to nag my children to get their shoes on, just as I do on so many other mornings. I also know that Donald Trump won the election, and Hillary Clinton did not. That’s all I really know for sure.
  • Don’t let your thoughts get the best of you. We’re not good at not knowing, and there is so much we don’t know. Our minds want to fill in the vacuum with worry and conjecture. Try to notice when this is happening, and come back to what you absolutely know for sure to be true in this moment, right now. That tree in front of you. The feeling of the steering wheel in your hands. The restlessness in your body. The sound of your spouse’s voice telling you dinner is ready. 

This is the part where your thoughts will jump to the “yes buts” and the “what ifs.” That is just your mind trying to bait you into freaking out again. Don’t take the bait. There will be plenty of time for analyzing and planning and taking action, but you’ll be a lot less reactive and a lot more effective if you get yourself grounded first.

  • Get as much sleep as you can as soon as you can. Our brains and bodies just can’t function when we’re exhausted. Our thinking gets fuzzy, we’re more likely to jump to conclusions and freak out more than we need to, and our feelings feel even bigger and scarier than they might otherwise. I’m not saying sleep will fix everything, but things are hard enough right now; there’s no need to make them any harder by not taking your sleep seriously.
  • Stick to your regular routine. When the world feels like it’s been turned upside down, we need to focus on keeping it as upright as we can, one moment at a time. If it’s a workday, go to work. If you usually have three cups of coffee, do your best to stick to three cups. Nag your kids to eat their vegetables. Take out the garbage. You may be tempted to melt on to your couch—we all are—but don’t let it take over your entire day. It may feel hard to keep going, but you will feel better with a little normalcy in your schedule.
  • It’s ok to distract yourself. Watch some shitty TV. Read a mindless book. Chat with a friend about sports or sweaters or whatever you want to talk about other than politics. Yes, history is being made right now, and this stuff matters, but that doesn’t mean you need to think about it constantly. It will all still be here when your show is over or your book is done, so give yourself a break.
  • It’s ok to turn off the news and social media. You are allowed to step away from the constant stream of information and speculation. It doesn’t mean you’re checking out of the system or giving up on your beliefs. It just means you’re taking some space so you can get to a place where you can be calm and effective, rather than freaked out and reactive.
  • Give yourself and the people you meet today the benefit of the doubt. I’m not talking about politics, folks. I’m just saying that if someone is a little grumpier than usual, or cuts you off in traffic, or doesn’t respond to your email in a timely manner (or if you are guilty of any of these things, as I surely am), try to remember that none of us are our best selves right now.
  • Keep breathing. I know, I know. This sounds trite, but there’s a reason you keep hearing this same advice over and over again. There will likely be many moments over the next days and weeks when you feel scared, overwhelmed, and completely unsure of how to proceed. There may be times when you have no idea how to deal with your thoughts, and you’re not sure what is real and what isn’t. When that happens, just breathe, and pay attention to your breathing. You’ll get distracted over and over again by that damn pinball machine in your head, but keep coming back to your breath. The moment will pass, and you will get your feet on the ground again.

From there, you’ll be able to move forward. Family PortraitsCarla Naumburg, PhD, is a writer with a background in clinical social work and academia. She is the author of Ready, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness with Your Children for Fewer Meltdowns and a More Peaceful Family (New Harbinger, 2015) and Parenting in the Present Moment: How to Stay Focused on What Really Matters (Parallax, 2014). Her writing has appeared in The New York TimesThe Washington Post, and The Huffington Post, among other places. Carla lives outside of Boston with her husband and two young daughters.

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