Self-Care for Post-Election Post-Traumatic Stress

This past week, I experienced a lot of free-floating anxiety. I have suffered from panic attacks in the past, and have received support for anxiety since I was an adolescent. Experiencing anxiety isn’t that strange for me. However, in the last few years, I have done a lot of healing around the things that have caused me the most anxiety, including my own spiritual trauma and abuse, and created my own template for self-care for post-traumatic stress. Although I have certainly been the target of hateful anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, laws, and individual hate incidents, I have been insulated from a lot of systemic violence that my friends, chosen family, and communities have known their whole lives. I have been taught to trust my country’s democratic process, although that trust has eroded steadily throughout my adult life. Save for anxiety during the Bush administration when I was a teenager, I never identified the leader of my country as a source of mental health stress.

Several people who are close to me and a few work colleagues expressed having the same sense of anxiety this past week. When we dug a little deeper about this, we collectively identified a sense of not being safe, especially in relation to a new presidential administration. Many of us spoke about the desire to relax and to trust the policies Biden is enacting, designed to do to undo much of the damage of Trump. It’s been frustrating to not be able to let the change of rhetoric and policy that deeply impacts my life, my work, and the lives of my loved ones sink in, given that this was all I had hoped for the last four years.

Many noted during 45’s presidency that it felt like those who were a target of his callous violence were in an abusive relationship with him. His lies, terrorizing rhetoric, gaslighting, manipulation, and unpredictable behavior mirror the experiences some have had in abusive relationships. We want to trust that we are safe and that that person no longer has power or control over us. Yet it has not even been one month since the attempted coup of our democracy, promoted by our former president. It felt like the abusive ex-friend or ex-partner sending threatening texts, prank calls, or leaving unpleasant items on my front porch. Yes, that person isn’t physically there every day, but their influence and attempts to intimidate, threaten, and control are still present.

It is incredibly important for us to acknowledge that our former presidential administration was violent, abusive, and terrorizing–not only in systems, but on a deeply personal level. By naming that we are in recovery from an abusive relationship with our government, we can use the same kinds of tools that would be recommended to us if we were getting out of an abusive situation with an individual. Here are three things experts recommend to increase our sense of safety & self-care for post-traumatic stress recovery:

  1. Give yourself permission to not be okay. For me and many others, it feels frustrating and confusing to not be able to drop back into “normal life.” I expected that I would feel relieved with a new focus on getting back to the work of social justice and inclusion post-inauguration. What has actually happened is that I keep imagining scenarios in which our new leaders are harmed, or somehow the vote of the American people would be reversed. I would be back into the daily terror of my rights being taken away, with daily discourse that dehumanized me and my communities. I was afraid that I was wallowing somehow in my anxiety, and that everyone else had moved on, fully trusting our new government leaders. That isn’t the case. I find that when I am in acceptance about my emotional states, whatever they are, it is much easier for me to be present. I give myself leeway on deadlines, and I accept that whatever I am doing will not be perfect.
  2. Give yourself space to grieve. I have found that underneath my anxiety is actually a deep well of grief. It comes out in all kinds of moments, whether a tragic part of a TV show or apropos to nothing, suddenly feeling extremely sad and wanting to cry. I have a hard time expressing sadness and grief, so it’s easier for my body to turn that into anxiety. Grief can look like all kinds of emotional responses and reactions. It’s okay to not feel okay. In fact, it’s normal and necessary These feelings don’t have to be changed, just witnessed. We do not have to understand where the grief came from, or put words to it. All we need to do is feel it and let it pass through our bodies. We can’t change what we’ve gone through the past four years, but by acknowledging it, not dismissing it as politics as usual, we calibrate what “normalcy,” “safety,” and “sanity” mean for us in relation to the systems we live within.
  3. Prioritize activities and connections with others that make you feel safe, grounded, and embraced. I like the word embrace. When I think of the word embrace, I think of my mother wrapping me in a blanket when I was a child, or my girlfriend cuddling me under a big down comforter at night. Embrace connotes safety, acceptance, and love simultaneously. Even if we are not able to physically be around loved ones right now, are there activities, like watching or re-watching a cherished TV show, or taking a bubble bath, that gives us that same feeling of warmth and comfort? What practices have you done by yourself that make you feel more connected and more acquainted with you? What does connection with yourself feel like? Are there activities that make you feel more connected with others? Can you set up recurring phone calls, game nights, or accountability groups to meet these needs?

Self-compassion and awareness of trauma responses are something I cover in several of my cultural humility and inclusion trainings, including LGBTQ and Gender & Pronoun 101, Spiritual Trauma, Abuse, & Mental Health Among LGBTQ People and Preventing Clinical Bias. We discuss self-care principles and interventions for exploring trauma, and apply our learning through roleplay and other activities. If you or your agency is interested in booking a training, please fill out my Training Request Form or contact me directly at kelsey@kelseypachaconsulting.com.