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In the Wake of the Election ...

Taking Heart

Rick Hanson

Editor's Note: In the wake of the turmoil of the long election campaign and Tuesday night’s unexpected results, many of us—both therapists and clients alike—are wondering how to make sense of our emotional reactions and how to get our bearings again. Putting the politics aside, what does it mean to come to terms with the deeply unsettling sense that something fundamental has shifted in the world? What do we know as therapists that can guide us in moving forward in both our personal lives as well as our work with clients? While we’ve all been flooded with news stories and post-election analyses, we wanted to share a blog by Rick Hanson, frequent contributor to the Networker and author of Hardwiring Happiness, that literally seemed to get to the heart of the matter.


TAKE HEART by Rick Hanson

What do you do when the bottom falls out? Take heart. 

Why? It takes heart to live in even ordinary times. By "taking heart," I mean several related things:

  • Sensing your heart and chest
  • Finding encouragement in what is good both around you and inside you
  • Resting in your own warmth, compassion, and kindness; resting in the caring for you from others; love flowing in and love flowing out
  • Being courageous, whole-hearted and strong-heartedgoing forward wisely even when anxious, knowing your own truth and as you can speaking it

When you take heart, you're more able to deal with challenges like aging, illness, trauma, or conflicts with others. You're also more able to take advantage of opportunities with confidence and grit.

Additionally, it takes heart to live in, live with, and live beyond times that are really hard. Your personal hard time might be bad news about your health, the death of a parent, or betrayal by others. Or it could be related to changes in your country and world, and your concerns about their effects on others and yourself; I've written about the importance of finding and facing facts at the level of society (feel free to skip it if you don't want my take on politics).

There are so many examples of honorable people facing great difficulty with dignity, principle, and courage. They did it. We can, too.

How? Start by riding out the storm. When big things happen at any scalein your child's schoolyard or in a refugee camp on the other side of the worldit's completely natural and normal to be shocked and disturbed by them.

As best you can, stay with the raw experience, the body sensations, the deep feelings, the stirred up fears and anger and perhaps paralysis. Whatever it is, it is your experience; some may be upset about a big event while others may be glad about it; I am definitely not trying to talk you out of your experience. Be mindful of whatever is passing through the big open space of awareness, observing it without being flooded by it. Painful and counterintuitive as it may be, this is the foundation of releasing really hard experiences and replacing them gradually and authentically with thoughts and feelings that are helpful, wholesome, wise, and even happy.

Do things that help you come back to center and find your footing. Personally, I prioritize exercise, sleep, and meditation; I try to feel the truth of being basically alright right now, in this moment, moment after moment (alongside and deeper than pain or sorrow); I do the dishes and make the bed. Walk the dog, call a friend, eat something, look at trees and sky, get a cup of tea and stare into space. Take good care of your body.

Guard and guide your attention. It's one thing to find facts and form the best plans you can. It's another thing to get distracted or upset by news or other people that do not add any useful value.

Take heart in the good that is real. Outside you, there is the kindness in others, the beauty of a single leaf, the stars that still shine no matter what hides them. Right now as you read, all over the world children are laughing in delight, families are sitting down to a meal, babies are being born, and loving arms are holding people who are dying. Inside you, there is your compassion, sincere efforts, sweet memories, capabilitiesand much more. Take heart with others, sharing worries, support, and friendship.

Do the things you can. The more that events are turbulent, alarming, and beyond your influence, the more important it is to grow stability, safety, and agency inside you and around you.

Have courage. At all human scales, strong forces have always tried to confuse and frighten others. Whatever outward action is necessary, you can preserve an inner freedom, never cowed or bowed in your core.

Last, I've found it really helps to have perspective. Without minimizing one bit of whatever is awful, it is also true that humans like you and I have been walking this earth for nearly 200,000 years. I see the trees, the land, the oceanall of it here before me and lasting long after me. Empires rise and fall. Sometimes the center does not holdin a body, marriage, or nationand still. And still people love each other, go out of their way for a stranger, and marvel at a rainbow. Nothing, nothing at all can change this. We keep putting one foot in front of the other one, lifting each other up along the way.


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Topic: Anxiety/Depression | Cultural, Social & Racial Issues

Tags: Anxiety | courage | dealing with anxiety | grief | grief and loss | kindness | love | politics | Rick Hanson | self-blame | self-care | self-compassion

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016 4:42:35 PM | posted by Wendy Wernher
Thank you for your thoughtful words. I saw a client tonight who is dealing with the aftermath of the election. Afraid of the future and retraumatized from past events. I am dealing with exactly the same feelings. It is a struggle to help someone else when you are not in the healthiest state of mind, but today before my session I did many of the things you suggested and it did help me and hopefully it helped her too.

Monday, November 14, 2016 8:06:15 AM | posted by
Whatever your opposition to some of President Elect's policies or character/morality, it does not help to negatively generalize/dismiss his voters.

Sunday, November 13, 2016 9:06:12 AM | posted by Mark
Very Nice Rick, thank you. Time to Let it all go - what a crazy bunch (50%) of people in this country. Garrison Keillor just wrote a piece about how for a large majority of the people who voted for Trump, they will be the most hurt by him and his policies. The rest of us truly want to help them have a better life too! Oh well, can't help them (much) now.

Saturday, November 12, 2016 10:45:53 PM | posted by Ron
The problem with this is a complacency which it encourages. We can all look around, soak in, the good of the environment we are now in. That does nothing about the policies that are about to come in place the next 4 years that will deny climate change, racism, other injustices. Rick, we don't need your positive spin. We need to do something about the communal evil, maybe call it fascism, that is being let loose. Your words are obfuscating, made for the privileged.