Two days hence could be Woeful Wednesday for people who wake up with an empty sensation after months and months of 24/7 contentious political campaigning.
Regardless of political affiliation and despite the fates of their candidates, people could experience the same empty feeling football fans do on the first Sunday after the Super Bowl. The frustration can be especially aggravating for political junkies who have been obsessed with campaigns that began as long as two years ago, struggling to find a focus for their attention and an outlet for their energy.
Have no fear and don't despair, advise Coulee Region psychology and behavioral professionals, who suggest that shedding the obsession and reconnecting with nonpolitical reality will be much more constructive.
The first step will be to decompress and recover from the particularly poisonous vitriol that overwhelmed this past election cycle — nationally and in many local races, said Brian Kumm-Schaley of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and Michael Parker of Viterbo University in La Crosse.
Post-election periods can leave people feeling let down, some generally disappointed, said Kumm-Schaley, an assistant professor in UW-L’s Recreation Management and Therapeutic Recreation Department.
“My feeling about this election — regardless of party — is that the rhetoric and divisiveness of this election cycle have contributed to social anxiety about who we are as a people and our values as a country,” he said.
Parker, an assistant psychology professor at Viterbo, underscored the point: "One thing we’re seeing that’s different from the past is the rhetoric is increasingly negative.
“Part of the problem is seeing opponents not only as misguided, but as evil, with bad intentions,” Parker said. “In the past, people disagreed, but they were all patriots.”
The over-the-top antagonism undermines democracy, he said.
“There may be some resolve for some, and a lot of Americans may be able to say, 'Just get on with it.' Hopefully, that will resonate,” Kumm-Schaley said.
By virtue of his job, “I’m very interested in leisure behavior,” he said. “Politics is, in many ways, sport, and it has been called the ultimate bloodsport — intense, fevered, a sense of passion.”
The feelings could be akin to the cold-turkey withdrawal by what Hunter S. Thompson described as a sport junkie, he said.
“This political cycle is similar to what Cubs fans are feeling, with a similar level of intensity,” Kumm-Schaley said during an interview before the Cubs broke their 108-year curse and became world champions in a World Series that drained the energy of fans and bandwagon-jumpers alike at the same time it gave the country a welcome distraction from politics.
“One thing to do is unplug, detoxify to come down slowly,” Kumm-Schaley said. “It is a good time to channel nature and remind yourself of other things. Reconnect with family and find the important things in life.
“Get into conversations with your kids and talk about what’s important to them,” he said.
Parker echoed Kumm-Schaley’s sentiments, saying that the presidential campaign is “highly emotional, for two of the most disliked candidates. Some people may not vote.
“There is going to have to be significant coping because so many people are at risk of feeling hurt or cheated because of the polarized nature” not only of campaigns but also legislative deliberations, Parker said.
“The current system is not sustainable,” with increasing use of the filibuster in Congress during the past 20 to 30 years, he said.
“I do have hope, if we think less emotionally. If we could get over the Civil War, we should be able to get over this,” Parker said.
“Political theater is not what compromise is about, when we see disagreement as a moral failure,” he said.
“If we cannot accept diversity, we could become like North Korea, which we don’t want it to be. There is a reason we chose democracy as our form of government.”
Behavioral health specialist Josh Gerrity said, “It’s important that we just take care of ourselves through the whole process.”
That involves maintaining normal activities and friendships at work, at school or wherever you are, said Gerrity, who works in the Sparta Clinic of Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare.
“To manage the adjustment, the anxiety … engage in the world and be with supportive people. Still do the things that give you joy,” he said.
Just as the three branches of government — executive, legislative and judicial — are intended to keep each other, and the nation, on an even keel, people need to keep the physical, psychological and social aspects of their lives in balance, Gerrity said.
“Especially with family, because we have family with us forever,” he said.
If there is tension among friends, “ask if the relationships are valuable,” he advised. “If they are, it will be better not to talk about the election and not talk about politics. If somebody brings it up, do not engage them.
“Make sure to have boundaries, knowing full well that some might cross them, but others might not,” he said.
This might be the perfect Thanksgiving to keep politics off the menu, as such holidays create enough stress in many families, the experts say.
Whatever the approach, people should not expect the angst to disappear overnight.
“I encourage patients to be — well, patient,” Gerrity said. “This will take time.”