After the election: managing grief and loss

Contributed by Ruth Thomas-Squance, MPH, PhD, Executive Director, Equilibrium Dynamics and Certified Trainer

The past few days - even months - around the 2016 elections have been incredibly hard on many people for all kinds of reasons. Managing intense feelings around Tuesday’s results, whether you won or lost, can be very challenging since those results mean change.

The experience of change can be one of the highest causes of stress and needs skillful emotional management primarily because it is inevitably accompanied by both losses and gains.

Loss is easily recognized when someone dies, but losses can come in all shapes and sizes, from losing your wallet to losing your job, a divorce or losing an election. Each of these has the potential to affect us emotionally, though permanent changes are often the most painful.

Feelings of grief are how we respond to any of these losses.  It is very common for people to try to dodge the pain of grief using phrases like “forget about it”, “no big deal” or “I’m over it”, because they don’t really know how to handle these emotions.

But grieving really plays an essential role in the process of responding to change and the capacity to let go or move on.

At Equilibrium Dynamics, our curriculum includes the 5 phases of grief outlined by psychiatry. Reading these can help you recognize the feelings you experience as grief.

Phase 1:  Numbness and Shock

Phase 2:  Yearning, for example for the missing person, which can include guilt and bargaining “if only I had done this…”

Phase 3:  Protest, in the form of feelings of irritation and anger.

Phase 4:  Despair feeling grief, sad, hopeless or desperate.

Phase 5:  Detachment and moving on, the point of being ready to let go, hopeful and reintegrating your life without the lost person, or to find a new job.

The feelings that arrive with these phases move through us, like waves that come in on a beach and eventually recede.  Even if you have to restrain your grief to get through the business of your day, remember it is crucial not to permanently stifle grief. Consider it emotional exercise, a service you can do for yourself.

Processing grief is important to your emotional healing and is critical to support your long-term physical health.  Stockpiling unfinished grief and unprocessed feelings sooner or later often leads to those feelings bursting into emotional flames, which will not be under your control. Grieve now, to prevent that possibility later.

Take the time for self-care, to check in and allow yourself to feel your grief. Do it privately if crying appears too vulnerable, uncomfortable or unmanly to you.  This will leave you stronger, acknowledging and adapting to the loss, more able to face the future with resilience. That’s emotional competence.

In terms of the election, whichever way you voted, remember we get to do this all over again in 4 years, so practicing these skills is always useful.

|| November 11, 2016