Where do we even begin? It’s been an anxiety-inducing election season, and that’s only scratching the surface of this relentless year. But it seems the dust has settled just enough to discern the 46th president and the vice president of the United States. Thank goodness the wait is over.
Even with news that former V.P. Joe Biden is the projected president and Senator Kamala Harris the vice president, even among the cheers and spontaneous dance parties, we don’t know what the next four years will hold. It’s even harder to adequately process what you might’ve experienced over the last four years. So, above all else, your feelings are valid. There’s nothing inappropriate about them. Even if things feel election-specific, the emotions you’re experiencing right now might connect to other aspects of your life. To that end, there is no one way to feel about the outcome of this election. You are allowed the melange of emotions cropping up.
That said, there is power in naming those feelings, whether out loud or to yourself. So to help you put language to everything you’re feeling, we’ve tapped therapists to discuss a few totally normal feelings that might surface during this time.
1. You’re exhausted and overwhelmed.
This election season exists against the backdrop of a global pandemic that has killed more than 235,000 people in the United States, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surveillance data. “A common emotion is feeling exhausted,” Cicely Horsham-Brathwaite, Ph.D., counseling psychologist and mindset coach, tells SELF. “Also, people might find that, if they’re exhausted, their typical habits for managing stress aren’t quite as effective as they had been previously.”
It’s okay to acknowledge that you’re tired. If your exhaustion and overwhelm stem from watching the news and consuming social media for hours on end, allow yourself to put limits on the amount of time you spend engaging with these outlets. Maybe you’ve found that the last four years have been erosive in ways you couldn’t acknowledge before. If so, prioritize rest—even if you have to get creative about how you find it.
2. You’re angry.
Maybe the election didn’t turn out the way you had hoped, or maybe your anger feels a little more nebulous. Election Day doesn’t exist in a separate space-time continuum, so your anger might have roots that extend far beyond any one election. You might wish there’d been a more progressive presidential candidate on the ballot, for instance. Please know that you have a right to feel angry (as well as any other emotion), and you don’t need to be afraid of these feelings. Instead, take a moment to acknowledge your anger. “Usually, there’s some primary emotion that’s underneath that anger,” Vernessa Roberts, Psy.D., a counseling psychologist, previously told SELF. “If it’s anxiety, fear, sadness, or disappointment—whatever it is—it’s often difficult for us to express those primary emotions. Anger is sometimes more acceptable to express.” So take some deep breaths—or try a few other coping strategies—to help the anger and rage move through you. When you’re ready, you can try to pinpoint what’s underneath the anger.
3. You’re relieved.
If your candidate won, then relief is pretty understandable. But you might be experiencing relief even if one or more of your chosen candidates didn’t win. Our brains really don’t like uncertainty, so having an answer might bring you some sense of relief. “We tend to want to know the answer and have trouble tolerating ambiguity,” Horsham-Brathwaite explains. So if your relief surprises you, don’t worry too much—it’s one less thing your brain has to puzzle over.
4. You’re worried about your safety.
Whether you’re concerned because you live in a place where backlash about the election results could be downright dangerous to you, or you’re afraid of what the next four years of a potentially split Congress will bring, your feelings are valid. “I’ve had people being very afraid [about] what will happen to their loved ones—whether that’s related to their immigration status or it’s related to their ability to seek medical treatment,” Horsham-Brathwaite says. These worries are likely to continue beyond Inauguration Day. Amid celebrations, there is a fear that people might confuse a new administration with a license to abandon political engagement. So your worry isn’t without just cause.
When discussing what folks experience while being Black in America, Horsham-Brathwaite mentions that some of the fear Black people feel might stem from how police violence can seem almost normalized, and folks might become desensitized to it. Maybe you have similar worries about how normalized hate speech has become, especially over the last four years. If so, it’s important to remember that none of what we’re facing as a country right now is normal. Being concerned and upset is a logical response.
5. You’re overjoyed.
“Part of what happened for people in 2016 is that they may have assumed one outcome of the election, and their beliefs were violated,” Horsham-Brathwaite explains. So a Biden win could feel like it’s righting a cosmic wrong. It might confirm what you want so desperately to believe about this country. Or your joy might symbolize the hope of a different future (in a year where optimism feels downright delusional). Maybe you’re not excited about the outcome per se, but you’re optimistic about voter turnout and political engagement overall. No matter what everyone around you is feeling, you’re allowed to be excited.
6. You don’t know how you feel.
Sometimes it’s difficult to parse exactly how we feel, and that’s totally okay. If you’re having trouble labeling your emotions (or they all feel like a stew), consider using a feelings wheel to pinpoint them. Doing this will help you put words to the sensations and emotions bubbling up in your body, Horsham-Brathwaite previously told SELF.
7. You feel positive and negative emotions at the same time.
Maybe you’re dealing with a few conflicting emotions. Perhaps your presidential candidate won, but your state and local choices didn’t. Maybe you’re excited about a Biden administration, but you’re struck by the sheer number of people who voted for the incumbent president. Maybe this election helped you think of something else besides the new coronavirus pandemic, and now you’re grappling with the surge in cases. The combination of emotions is truly endless. But here’s the thing: No matter who is in the White House for the next four years, the work for a more equitable society continues. And that realization—that no one candidate is coming to save us—might inspire a host of conflicting emotions. It’s okay if you’re experiencing several emotions at the same time.
8. You’re completely over the electoral process.
If you had to stand in long lines and argue for a provisional ballot, or you’re simply confused by the need for an Electoral College, you might be over the political process altogether. If you’re disillusioned, you’re not alone. As Horsham-Brathwaite mentions, it’s helpful for us to control what we can. While you can’t dismantle and rebuild our political system, organizations like FairVote are working on improving our democratic process. Consider donating time, money, or other resources to folks working to make the changes you’d like to see.
9. You are grieving.
“Grief could come up for some individuals, depending on what values they have and what the election means for them,” Roberts explains. If in the aftermath of this election (and 2020 in general), you’re feeling hopeless, we understand. There’s so much work to be done. It’s okay if you still feel sad as much of the world celebrates. Even if your candidate won, the grief is valid.
10. You’re inspired to stay politically engaged and wondering what to do next.
Voter turnout this year was extremely high—especially given the global pandemic—so if you’re someone who has recently found yourself more politically active, you might be inspired to stay that way. As SELF has previously reported, political engagement extends far beyond election season, and there are myriad ways to get involved. Your interest in politics doesn’t have to end right now—stay active and keep holding elected officials accountable.
11. You’re completely checked out.
Maybe you’re overwhelmed, or maybe you’re just numb to the constant barrage of commentary. When discussing pre-election feelings, SELF previously reported, feeling numb is fine, as long as you acknowledge the feeling, Roberts says. Be kind to yourself, and be mindful of whether you’re using unhealthy distractions (like a little too much drinking) to stave off your normal feelings. “Continued pattern of avoidance and deflection just isn’t helpful for us,” Roberts explains.
12. You’re more concerned about your immediate circumstances.
A hallmark of 2020 includes dealing with multiple crises at once. It’s possible that things like your health, finances, fights with family, and other concerns are eclipsing the election. If your strongest feeling is wrapped up in some other facet of your life entirely, that’s okay. No matter what’s coming up for you right now, you can employ coping strategies, like taking things one day at a time, to help if you feel emotionally pummeled by 2020.
13. You feel guilt or shame.
There are lots of reasons you might feel guilt or shame. Maybe you’re remembering how outraged you were in 2016, and you wish you’d been more politically engaged or vocal over the last four years. Maybe the news cycle is focusing on voter turnout by demographic, and you find yourself slightly ashamed of folks who share your identity. Whatever you’re feeling, try not to judge yourself too harshly. Instead, let those feelings inform your actions going forward. “When the world shifts, it’s an opportunity to try new ways of being and thinking,” Horsham-Brathwaite says.
14. You can’t shake the overwhelming sense of uncertainty.
Even though we’ve figured out who our next president will be, there’s still so much we don’t know. We have no idea how a largely conservative Supreme Court will impact our rights. We have no clue whether or not elected officials will make good on campaign promises. We have no idea what to expect from the next few months as the new coronavirus pandemic and flu season converge. If you’re struggling with the uncertainty, please know that it makes sense—there are still massive unknowns. “Tolerating ambiguity is a skill that one develops,” Horsham-Brathwaite says, adding that it’s important to control the aspects of your life that you can. “I see people tolerating and practicing being in the moment.”
15. You’re struggling to find coping mechanisms.
This has been a volatile election, and there are real liberties at stake. So if you’re struggling to cope with everything that’s coming up, please know that you’re not alone. We’ve laid out a few tips you might try if your mind is racing, if you’re having trouble sleeping, or if you don’t have the energy to feed yourself. If you need help finding an affordable therapist, or you’re struggling with how to even make the best of your therapy sessions right now, know that these feelings are completely justified. As we’ve said before: Nothing about this year has been normal, so give yourself permission to seek as much support as you need.