Election Reflections

by Paul Sherman

As our country digests the election results, many are experiencing a palpable sense of dread, horror, disbelief and a litany of other emotions that epitomize stress and even suffering. For people having this stressful reaction, reality is that their core beliefs and values are under attack. Who wouldn't feel this way under these circumstances? This a modern manifestation of the classic fight or flight response complete with the neurochemicals of cortisol and adrenaline. People see an imagined sabertoothed tiger in front of them and they are about to be eaten! Enter rage, terror, aggression and doom.

And, yes, for many this election result is a real sabertoothed tiger. They see dire consequences ahead. It's real and it's scary. Something needs to be done. However, unlike our caveman ancestors, physical battle or running away won't ward off this particular tiger and dissipate our stress chemicals. The cortisol and adrenaline continue to course through our bodies manifesting in emotional and physical turmoil.

Here's the thing. Those of us who continue to hold onto our negative experience of the election results are actually inflicting harm on ourselves. We are causing our own pain. We are allowing our external circumstances to hijack our well-being. Truth be told, we fundamentally owe it to ourselves and those we love to find ways to build up our inner resilience under these troubling circumstances. Our emotional reactions must be tempered with a deeply rooted sense of responsiveness.

You may be thinking, I'm under attack. I need to stay angry and outraged to take action and stand up for my beliefs. Believe that if it serves you. That's completely your decision. However, beware of when that anger begins to negatively impact your own well-being. What good will you be to your cause if your own adrenaline and cortisol are eating a way at your body, mind and spirit. Hardly you at your best.

So, how to recover your sense of well-being? Begin by practicing acceptance. Accept that the external circumstances of this election are what they are. Believing that there should have been a different result is a recipe for needless suffering. It's the equivalent of saying that dogs should meow and cats should bark. You are arguing against reality.

Acceptance, however, DOESN'T mean condoning or agreeing with the situation. You don't have to celebrate and applaud. Nor do you need to to roll over and give up. What's important is that you do what you feel called to do to influence the world. Just do it in a way that feeds you rather than sucks the life out of you, that promotes your well-being and the well-being of others. That's called leadership.

In addition to acceptance, you may want to give gratitude a shot. What are you thankful for? Find something, anything. I for example, am grateful that we had a free election. I'm grateful that I live in a country that allows for dissenting opinions. Hell, I'm grateful that I have a roof over my head and was able to get out of bed today (even though it was tough!). Gratitude is core to your well-being.

Then there's kindness. Not only kindness to others, but kindness to yourself. Do something kind today. Anything. Okay, so you may not think our president-elect is the kindest human being, and that if our leader doesn't model it, why should we. Here's the thing, there is ample scientific evidence that kindness relieves stress. Don't you owe it to yourself to relieve the stress you may be feeling from this election. Why not be the kindness you want to see in others.

The ancient Greek philosopher, Epictetus, taught "we are disturbed not by what happens to us, but by our thoughts about what happens." Thoughts can be difficult to control, especially when we feel under attack. However by practicing acceptance, gratitude and kindness, we stand a better chance of preventing those first negative thoughts from arising. For those struggling with these election results, I invite you to give these practices a try. You can learn about these and other techniques for well-being in Ask What Matters?! A Practical Approach to Your Total Well-Being, a book co-authored by me and my husband, David Garten.

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