It’s OK to Be Angry and Sad Right Now

Emotions are running high post-election. You may be feeling disappointed, shocked, scared, angry, or saddened by the results on November 8.

If you’re like me, you’ve heard a lot of well-meaning people trying to talk you out of your emotions. I’ve been told I need to stop feeling sad, or that being angry won’t help. I’ve been encouraged to wait and see, that “it’ll be OK.”

But I’m here as a therapist to tell you to ignore all that. Your feelings are valid, understandable. And they are important! Core emotions* have what we therapists call “adaptive action tendencies” attached to them. That means that an authentic emotion, one that is coming from your gut, is propelling you to DO something. Grief and sadness urge you to connect to loved ones. Anger energizes you to take action to help yourself. Fear motivates you to fight or flee. Emotions have stuck around through evolution because they serve a purpose. They tell us when and how to act. Sure our thoughts do this too, but emotions bring different information and urges (and also work a heck of a lot faster than thoughts, which is especially important in life-or-death situations).

So listen to your feelings, and what they are telling you. Do you need connection? Do you need to take action? Do you need to do something to protect yourself or your family? Engage your brain, your thoughts, to figure out what to do with the messages your emotions are sending. Think about what friends are the right ones to reach out to, or where you can connect with community for comfort. Engage in activism. Do you need to call or write your government representatives to express opinions, volunteer for an advocacy group, participate in a protest, or make a donation?

A caveat – our emotions are useful only when they are regulated and manageable. When your emotions get so intense that you are overwhelmed by them, it gets really hard to make wise choices about what to do next. When you’re overwhelmed, you may collapse, panic, or sprint into action in ways that aren’t effective or at a pace that leads to burnout. So if you are overwhelmed, take a minute to regulate. Try some mindfulness and resilience tools. Talk to a therapist.  Get some exercise. Once you are back in a place where you can feel your emotions and think at the same time, you are ready to start listening to your emotions again.

So feel your feelings. You can’t really stop yourself from feeling anyway, so you might as well accept your emotions and find the strength and wisdom in them.

* Core emotions are your true, authentic emotions, the ones coming from your gut and giving you wisdom. As opposed to “defensive emotions” which are cover-ups… like when you snap at someone in anger but underneath you are really hurt or sad.