The emotional is political

Since the U.S. election of Trump, I have been hearing from people in my communities and in my counselling practice about intensified feelings of panic, rage, and terror, as well as associated feelings of numb withdrawal from the world.  If these are your experiences, this post is written for you.

1. First, I want to say, your feelings make sense. Your feelings around the current political climate are not irrational or wrong. They are the result of a violent political climate that is intended to silence and disempower you. While some Trump voters may not have consciously meant to send this message, the U.S. election has served as an endorsement of continued violence against black people, indigenous people, latinx people, women, immigrants, Muslims, queer people, trans people, people with disabilities, and the environment. Your perceptions are right—there is something terribly wrong happening.  What is happening politically is not okay. The long histories of violence sanctioned by the U.S. and Canadian governments are not okay.

2. Understanding what is going on with our emotions is a way of taking back our power. For many of us, our feelings of panic or numbness are the result of a visceral, bodily awareness of our own vulnerability and the vulnerability of people whom we care about. Political violence is real, and it takes power away from people. It sends the message that we are alone, that we are powerless, and that we should be quiet and give up. Accessing emotional supports and figuring out new coping strategies is a way of taking back our power. Caring for our physical and emotional well-being is a crucial step towards figuring out strategies of collective connection, survival, and resistance. Figuring out tools that help us to ground ourselves and to regulate overwhelming bodily responses builds our power.  Doing this can help us to show up and support others in situations that previously felt too scary, too overwhelming. 

3.  While there is no "one-size-fits-all" response, there are resources and tools and actions that can help us feel more personally powerful. Crisis Text Line has gathered together some great resources: http://www.crisistextline.org, including action steps, free phone and text supports, and emotional regulation techniques.  This University of Michigan guide to managing election-related stress also seems helpful: https://caps.umich.edu/content/manage-election-related-stress-information. 

I want to especially endorse the 4-7-8 breathing technique that Crisis Text Line links to. This is my personal strategy of choice for slowing down my heart rate at times when I feel anxious and have difficulty thinking clearly.  Mindfulness apps like HeadSpace, MindShift, Calm, and Stop Breathe Think can be helpful for checking in with yourself and accessing a little more space to think.  Also, this website can be helpful when you're not okay, but you're not sure what you need: http://philome.la/jace_harr/you-feel-like-shit-an-interactive-self-care-guide/play.

4. You are not alone. Connecting with other living beings can be a powerful source of emotional support--what therapists call emotional co-regulation. This might mean texting or calling people you love, showing up to a rally with people who share your beliefs, sharing a meal with a friend, or visualizing the people who ground and inspire you.  Learning about the long histories of resilient and creative anti-violence struggles, including their current manifestations in #BlackLivesMatter and #NoDAPL, might also serve as an inspiration.  You are not alone in your opposition to oppression. The Icarus Project also has a Find A Buddy project for people who are looking to connect with someone for mutual support. 

When connecting with other humans feels tough, animals can also be great sources of emotional support, whether spending time with a cat on your lap or watching a video of a baby elephant playing in the ocean. Relationships with our living world, through gardening, hiking in the woods, watching birds, or listening to the ocean, are also relationships that can help us emotionally regulate in difficult times. Choose the ways of connecting that feel possible to you right now, and build from there. 

5.  You do not have to choose between taking care of yourself and taking action.  If taking action doesn't feel like a possibility right now, this may be a sign to focus on taking care of yourself and healing. Active emotional self-care builds our personal power.  When we feel more personally powerful, we can better partner with and support other people.  In Trauma & Recovery, Judith Herman notes that many survivors of violence take on "survivor missions"--activist projects to transform violence. For Herman, this is the last stage of recovery.  You may not be there, and that's okay.  The healing process can be a place where you strengthen and build the necessary tools to take political action.  

Although I definitely do not have all of the answers, my plan is to continue thinking, feeling, and struggling against violence in collaboration with my communities and my colleagues and my clients.  I am curious about how others are planning their survival and resistance, and how we can build new communities of support in the years to come.