One sign from the anti-Trump protest Wednesday, here in Philly.

One sign from the anti-Trump protest Wednesday, here in Philly.

Emily Dubin

Tips for handling the election from the founder of Healing for Activists

Back in July, Damon Constantinides talked about the directory of therapists he created; the effort listed providers offering discounted-to-free weekly slots to Black Lives Matter activists. This project, Healing for Activists, has since grown: There are now lists for not only Philly, but D.C., Portland, San Francisco, San Diego, Madison (WI) and Chicago. He says fellow therapists continually ask him about joining the effort. “The stress of the election,” he says, has people asking “What can I do? How can I support people?”

Mental health counselors around the U.S. have reported spikes in anxiety surrounding this election. In October, the American Psychological Association reported, from survey results, that 52 percent of American adults were experiencing election stress. Thirty-eight percent get stressed from talk of politics and culture on social media. Millennials acknowledged feeling election stress more than GenXers and Baby Boomers, but still slightly less often than elderly Americans did. The groups that appeared to be most affected were Americans with disabilities; 60 percent disabled respondents said they were feeling it.

When we reached Constantinides yesterday, he said patients have been discussing both the election and nation’s current social climate with him. “Trump’s rhetoric on around social justice, human rights and basic human kindness has been really scary to people and kind of legitimized hatred and violence,” he said. “I’ve had people talk to me about [how] they feel hated, they feel unimportant, they feel scared for their safety.”

He continued, “I’ve [also] talked to many people who are like ‘This is nothing new, this is something I feel every day, living in a country that doesn’t value me as a human being.'”

We asked Constantinides for how to deal with post-election blues. Here’s what he told us.

How can people get over their election blues, and/or anxiety over social unrest in the country?

The thing that I was talking with some of my colleagues about a few minutes ago is that people who I talk to who are having panic attacks, [who are] feeling anxiety— This really isn’t an anxiety response. Anxiety is when… there’s really nothing to be anxious about, right? Like, ‘I’m feeling anxious; I don’t know why.’ That’s when I think about someone who suffers from anxiety. To think about how to treat that, we think about ways to teach our bodies how to react differently.

Now actually, feeling anxious or afraid is a very reasonable response to what’s happening. [It’s] useful. It’s real. It’s not something to try to avoid or get away from, but something to feel and get through. I’ve been encouraging people to think about not how do I manage my anxiety, but how do I manage my fear and my sadness. A really important way to do that is connecting with other people.

What are your tips for folks having a rough time?

Mostly, I’ve been getting people who are sad, or hurt or scared. I certainly encourage people to take care of themselves, kind of whatever that means: What are the things that make you feel safe? What are the things that make you feel connected to other people? What are the things that make your body feel good? Yeah, this is like a really scary thing for a lot of people.

How do you recommend people go about finding what works for them?

Something I like to ask people is ‘Can you tell me a time when you felt like this? And what did you do to take care of yourself?’ And lots of times we haven’t necessarily thought that out that clearly, and to have to actually say, oh this is what was upsetting and this was what I did. [That] can give them something to try again. And if it doesn’t work, then you try something else, right? 

[When] people are like, “I have no idea, I’ve never felt like this before, I don’t know what to do.”… Then the next question I ask is “What do your friends do when they feel like this? Or what does your family do when they feel like this?” …and then, “okay, which of these things do you want to try?”

Because it’s also about building our resiliency, building our skills to deal with adversity. I think it has to go hand in hand for looking for social change because if we’re just looking for social change without taking care of our personal selves, that’s how people burn out.

Are there any other recommended next steps that you would offer?

The thing is we just need to get through today, then get through tomorrow. 

Some people are like I need to do something, what do I do? You just need to be where you are and take care of yourself. And then there’s going to be strategy for how we can continue to take care of each other.

 

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