On the streets of midtown Sacramento on Wednesday, people seemed to be going about their daily routines as they took their lunchtime walks or grabbed a coffee. Some, however, harbored strong feelings inside – anxiety, depression and stress – as they struggled to come to terms with election results that many had thought were impossible.
Many of the Californians who supported Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said they felt helplessly resigned to celebrity businessman Donald Trump’s rise to power, while others were angry and ready to take a stand against his conservative platform. Most were simply stunned by the unexpected turn of events Tuesday night, which saw Trump come out on top despite the predictions of most polls of a Clinton win.
While Trump supporters celebrated, others were experiencing a confusing range of emotions including sadness, disgust, fear, excitement, curiosity, relief, confusion and anger, said Janet Spaulding, a therapist at Sage Psychotherapy in Sacramento. On top of that, it’s been easy to get overwhelmed by the barrage of reactions being shared on social media, she said.
“The complexity of the feelings is striking,” Spaulding said. “The election has been going on for a long time. It has been intense. A lot of us stayed up late (Tuesday) night, so our bodies are impacted too. It can take us a few days to get back to our normal selves, be it physically or mentally or both.”
Stacey Armstong, a 45-year-old Curtis Park mother, said she and her wife were so downtrodden by the results that they turned everything off before the final announcement of a winner, hoping they would wake up to a brighter day. On Wednesday morning Armstrong was commiserating about the results with a friend and worried about potential changes to reproductive health care, and gay and lesbian rights.
“It’s devastating,” Armstrong said. “I was so optimistic and truly believed he could never become president. It makes me feel ashamed for my fellow Americans.”
Armstrong has a lot of company in California, where Clinton received 61.5 percent of the vote Tuesday – about 2.5 million more ballots than Trump did. Similarly, Democrats tightened their hold on the state Legislature and retained their overwhelming advantage in the state’s congressional delegation.
Sunitha Gurusinghe, a 65-year-old research scientist who voted for Clinton, said fear and and anger aren’t useful emotions for California Democrats at this point. Instead, she’s taking things day by day and hoping for the best.
“We have been sad for the past 10 hours,” she said. “Right now, what I’m thinking is that Trump supporters have been sad for the last eight years, and now maybe we should give them a chance. The future is always uncertain. Predictions are not always true. I’m opening my mind and saying we’ll see what they can do. What else can we do?”
For Eddie Steele, a 26-year-old musician who voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein, the key now is finding a way forward. Fleeing the country or pushing for California’s secession isn’t the answer, he said, but working together for change might be. Steele said he’s particularly concerned whether Trump, who has publicly denied the existence of human-caused global warming, will reverse the environmental policies of the Obama administration. Steele said he’s planning to hold a musical event later this week to bring people together following the election.
“Somebody’s got to stay here and do something about it,” Steele said. “I’d like to do what I can to try to spread some positivity and keep people from going crazy in this whole thing.”
Trump supporters such as David Burns, of course, woke up to a starkly different Wednesday. The part-time employee at Kilroy’s Guns, Gear and Goodies in West Sacramento said he felt well-rested, having gone to bed confident in Trump’s success and woke up hopeful for the nation’s future.
He said people who are opposed to Trump don’t have “anything to worry about.”
“It’s America. This is part of our grand experiment in democracy, that we have this peaceful transition of power,” Burns said. “During the last few elections when my candidates didn’t win I would have preferred a different outcome. But at the end of the day we all need to be Americans and work together. … I think we’re actually going to see a better country now.”
Still, for those distraught about the election results, and social media show many are, Spaulding had some advice for coping with politically induced stress.
Give yourself time
It’s important to acknowledge feelings of loss, anger and fear related to the election before launching into your regular routine, Spaulding said. Also, talking about politics before you’ve fully processed the event can make stress even worse.
Instead, she recommended taking deep breaths or writing a journal entry to express feelings in a safe way. She also advised staying away from social media and television to temporarily stay with your own thoughts.
“It’s OK to tell people you’re not quite ready to talk about it yet,” she said. “I’d also suggest gathering your support and giving yourself what you need, and going to where you go and get the most strength where you’re feeling depleted or uncertain, whether that’s a walk in nature or a good meal and a movie.”
Reach out to others
Once you’ve processed those election-related feelings, it can be helpful to relieve anxiety by shifting your focus onto the needs of others, Spaulding said. That can mean getting engaged in a community project or just doing something you enjoy with loved ones.
“Getting engaged and being involved with outreach restores our perspective of the larger world,” she said. “Right now it’s a little skewed – we’ve been inundated with these events for quite a while.
“We all kind of know where our safe or comfort place is,” she continued. “In situations of uncertainty, it’s important to remind yourself of where it is and go there. And that also can include your support system – people who you feel accepted and not judged by, and connecting to them in ways that fall outside of what’s happening politically.”
Reconnect with goals
Tumultuous times can help to remind people about what’s important in their lives, Spaulding said. To that end, take a little time out of each day to work toward a goal, restore a sense of normalcy and get a better view of the big picture.
“Ask yourself and remind yourself of what really is important to you at this time in your life, whether that’s health or the pursuit of knowledge or creativity,” she said. “What’s key is identifying some small, approachable steps that are steps toward those things that matter to you. If creativity is important to you, maybe this week you cook something new. If knowledge is important, maybe you set a time to read a book.”