When I walked into my office in the centre of London on Wednesday, I met an American colleague. "How's it going, James", I asked him. "Oh, well, you know . . ." he replied. I was worried something was wrong with his work or in his personal life, so I asked. "No, nothing like that. It's the election result. I just can't believe my fellow citizens voted for that man. I'm seriously depressed!" Being a bit depressed is a badge of pride amongst many Brits, but you start to get worried when an American is not unflinchingly positive.
My experience is being played out across the world. While some are jubilantly celebrate Trump's victory, others like James are deeply saddened. Millions of people say that Trump's victory makes them feel depressed, angry, despondent, shocked and sickened. Listening to people like James talk makes you think that someone had died. What has happened is a former reality TV star has been elected President of the U.S.A. While there are no dead bodies, the emotional costs of the election are very real. Some people show all the signs they are in mourning.
Going into mourning following an election might seem strange. However, it's actually quite normal. Election results can be traumatic life events for some. This is what happened when the British people voted to leave the European Union in June this year. Some 'remainers' said they felt deeply traumatised for weeks after the result.
Over 50 years ago, the Swiss Psychiatrist Elizabeth Küber-Ross found that people coping with a traumatic life experience like the death of a loved one typically go through a grief cycle. Similar patterns play out in almost any setting when we are coping with change. Immediately after a painful event happens, people deny it. They don't want to know it has happen. Then the loss becomes too real, and they start to get angry. Being angry is difficult to sustain for a long period of time, so then they start to bargain. They ask what they can keep and then what they might give away. Cutting a deal in the face of loss is tough so they slip into depression. They start to feel like nothing matters any more. Eventually, they come around to accepting the outcome. This allows them to finally detach themselves from their obsessions with the thing or person they lost.
Many Americans are already in this cycle of grief. Some in denial hide away in the hope they won't have to face up to the results. Others, like the protestors who descended on many American cities, are angry. The bargaining has already begun, with some people trying to cut a psychological deal with themselves that a Trump presidency may not be so bad. Then there are those who have slipped into the depression and despondency. Finally there is acceptance. It is likely many people around the world are a long way from this.
Dealing with political grief can be difficult. Often people remain stuck in a particular coping strategy for years. But there are ways we can cope with grief.
1. Talk about it. By sharing feelings you may be able to eventually leave them behind. Talk to friends and family about your experiences of the result and how it makes you feel.
2. Expose yourself. Gradually increasing your exposure to the thing which traumatises you can help you to realise it is not so horrific after all. Maybe watching a few speeches by Trump will help you put the result into perspective.
3. Reach out. People cope best when they have a strong support network around them. By reaching out to friends and family we can get the support we need to be strong.
4. Remember your strengths. By thinking about the things we value about ourselves, we can enhance our self-esteem. This make us more resilient. Maybe thinking about what your strengths are will help to remind you that you can deal with a world where Trump is president.
5. Disconnect. Simply distance yourself from the source of your traumas can work. Maybe switching off social media for a while will help you to deal with the flood of bad news.
6. Laugh. Humour is a great way of coping. Having a laugh about the election results can help to lighten up and deal with apparently unresolvable issues.
7. Put it in perspective. When faced with a trauma people need to realise what's really important to them. One rather extreme way to do this is to lie down and imagine you are dead. When you are in a corpse like position, ask yourself, what gave meaning to your life. It is likely the results of an election will pale into insignificance as you recognise what is truly important to you.