By Dr. John Schinnerer

At the gym today, I witnessed two old friends get into a heated argument over the recent election results. One man was getting increasingly upset over the fact that his friend had voted for Trump. The Trump supporter was defending his vote.  After a few minutes, the Clinton supporter shouted, “I can’t be friends with you anymore. I have no idea how you could put a narcissistic idiot in the White House!” To which, the Trump supporter simultaneously pushed him in the chest and told him “Shut up, loser!” At that point, others stepped in to break it up and the two men went separate ways.

And this is where we find ourselves after the election of the 45th President of the United States of America. Friends are turning on friends. A surge in hate crimes is being reported across the country. People are reporting heart palpitations, panic attacks, sleep loss, depression, rage and suicidal thoughts. Half the country is in shock and grief. The other half is celebrating. And emotions seem to be at the breaking point. It feels as if there is no desirable future for half the U.S. population.

So how do we move forward as one country? How do Hillary supporters get past the feelings of dread, anxiety, fear, anger, sadness and disgust?

There are three proven ways to move forward:

1.) Adjust your mindset

2.) Reframe the situation

3.) Mindfulness

Adjust Your Mindset

Part of the solution has to do with the powerful idea of mindset. A mindset is a lens through which we view and respond to life events (e.g., the election) and internal experiences (e.g., thoughts and feelings).  A mindset is a set of attitudes, assumptions and beliefs which are learned that influence our interpretations and responses to internal and external events.

Let’s do an exercise to demonstrate. Imagine you wear a set of Ray Ban sunglasses with dark gray lenses. You wear these glasses for a week, all day long; only taking them off when you sleep and shower.  After a week, how would the world look to you? Most likely, based on one hundred years of color psychology, the world would look gloomier, depressing, and more foreboding. Now imagine you have sunglasses with pink lenses. You wear these glasses for a week. After the week, most people would see the world as rosier, happier and more cheerful.  Finally, imagine you wear sunglasses with deep blue lenses for 7 days straight. You look at a freshly picked, ripe lemon. What color is the lemon? With the glasses on, you will perceive the lemon as green. Yet, the lemon IS yellow. Simply because it looks green, does not mean it IS green. You are merely seeing the lemon through distorted lenses.

The lenses in the glasses are like our mindsets. Sometimes we have unhelpful mindsets which lead to anger and sadness and make our lives more difficult.

What are Your Post-Election Mindsets?

What are some of the mindsets you have about the election results?  What thoughts go through your mind? For most Democrats, the thoughts sound something like this…

“How could this happen?”

“How can I explain this to my daughters and granddaughters?”

“But Hillary won the popular vote!”

“How can a racist, misogynistic xenophobe be President of the U.S.?”

These are all examples of mindsets, lenses though which you view the situation. And all these mindsets serve to increase your irritation, sadness, stress and rage.

Attention and emotion are inextricably intertwined. What you pay attention to affects how you feel. And how you feel influences that to which you attend.  So the million dollar question is …What do you focus on? 

Your best strategy is to focus on that which you can control: your thoughts, your actions and your breath. Nothing else.  You cannot control what Donald Trump does now. You cannot control whom he selects for his cabinet. You cannot control whom he picks for Supreme Court nominees. And the more you focus on those things out of your control, the more angry and stressed you become.

Reframe the Situation

So another way to deal with this situation is to reframe your situation… “The best use of my time is to focus on what I can control. I can use this time to breathe deeply to calm myself.  I will pray for those who are causing me distress and wish them well.  And then I’ll think kind thoughts for people in Congress, the new President, the Supreme Court judges.” And you pray to whatever God you believe in to grant Trump compassion, wisdom, grace and insight.  So there are two parts to changing your mindset:

  1. Cognitive (i.e., change your thinking)
  2. Behavioral (i.e., change your behavior)

First, you change your thinking and then you change your behavior.

Mindfully Label and Release the Emotion(s)

If you are a Hillary supporter, give yourself time to grieve the outcome. Recognize and label each emotion that you are feeling throughout the day. Common emotions include disgust, anger, rage, indignance, sadness, confusion, shock, fear, anxiety, depression, panic, embarrassment, shame and terror. The mere act of labeling the emotion correctly will reduce its intensity. The next step is to practice letting the emotion go. The best way to do this is using visualization. For example, imagine breathing in a white light in through your nostrils. Imagine that the white light is infused with peacefulness and serenity. Breathe in for four seconds. Hold it for 1-2 seconds. Then breathe out through your mouth for 5-6 seconds. While breathing out, imagine you are breathing out thick, black smoke which is filled with that anger, sadness or fear you were just feeling. It is important to  breathe out for longer than you breathe in as this activates the parasympathetic nervous system – the relaxation response.

Without training, the mind wants to take us to the past and the future. Due to the negativity bias, the mind will overfocus on bad things that happened in the past and worry about bad things that may happen in the future. When this happens, remind yourself that you are okay, right now. Everything is okay, right now. Then bring your attention to your breath to bring you back to the present moment. Each time your mind attempts to take you to a scary future, simply bring your attention back to your breath.

Another important step to work on is evoking empathy and compassion for the “others”  – whether they are Republicans, Democrats, Muslims, Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, men, women,  Mexicans, Syrians, Russians or whichever group with whom you are struggling.

Empathy is the ability to understand or feel what another person is feeling. It is the ability to put oneself in another person’s shoes.  People vary in the extent to which they experience empathy – from no empathy, to well-balanced empathy, to excessive empathy which can be harmful to self or others

Consider empathy as existing on a 10-point scale, ranging from no empathy (a 1) to well-balanced empathy (a 5) to too much empathy (a 10).

 

<1———————————————— 5 ————————————————- 10>

No empathy                     Well-balanced empathy                     Too much empathy

Developing Greater Empathy

To develop more empathy, here are 6 tips you can practice:

1. Get beyond labels that are a short cut to thinking (e.g., ‘Spaniard”, “Republican”,  “single mother”, “Muslim”, “greedy stock broker”, etc.).  The first step is to be aware of your use of such labels. The second step is to nurture your curiosity to go beyond these simple labels. Go deeper. Be intensely curious about others. Challenge your prejudices. The third step is to look for similarities between you and others; not the differences. One of the reasons I love emotions is that, at an emotional level, we are all the same. We all feel sadness, desire, contentment, fear, anger and hope. On an emotional level, we are all the same. 

2. Practice empathizing with people whose views you don’t share. For example, you might try empathizing with Republicans if you are a Democrat (or vice-versa). Or you might try empathizing with a Muslim if you are a Christian (and vice-versa). This practice challenges you to push the boundaries of your empathy zone to include people who are different from you in a significant way. However, despite the differences, everyone is still part of the same species.

3. Practice the art of conversation. Listen better. Ask questions.  Share deeper, emotional parts of your own story. Practice vulnerability.  Step into your own discomfort.

4. Practice loving kindness to extend your empathy and compassion to your city, your nation and ultimately, every creature in the world. “May President Trump be wise. May he be compassionate. May he be kind.”

5. Practice changing your personal narrative about who resides in your in-group. In terms of human development, we have gone from extending empathy within our tribe, to a single town, to a religion, to a nation. Why stop there? Extend your empathy to the world, to our entire species.

6. Try stepping outside yourself and seeing the world through the eyes of others.  Visit places where people different from yourself live. This doesn’t have to be going to another country necessarily. It might be going to the nearest big city and walking through different sections of town.  The goal is to expand your moral universe by meeting people from all walks of life, all cultures.

If you are in need of more assistance for extreme anxiety or anger, please take a look at Dr. John’s online anger management classes and his online anxiety management class at the store at WebAngerManagement.com.  These classes teach essential skills to turn down the volume on negative emotions at a fraction of the cost of a therapist.

About the Author – Dr. John Schinnerer

Dr. John Schinnerer, an expert in positive psychology and anger management, is revolutionizing the way in which people make sense of the mind, behavior and emotion. Recently, he was one of three experts to consult with Pixar on the Academy Award-winning movie, Inside Out. He has developed a unique coaching methodology which combines the best aspects of entertainment, humor, sports psychology, positive psychology and emotional management techniques. His offices are in Danville, California. He graduated from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in educational psychology.  He is an award-winning author of the book, How Can I Be Happy? He has been a speaker and coach for over 16 years. Dr. John’s blog, Shrunken Mind, was recognized as one of the top 3 in positive psychology on the web (drjohnblog.guidetoself.com). Dr. John hosts an online anger management class using positive psychology at WebAngerManagement.com. He offers an online anxiety management class.

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