On Nov. 9, distinct feelings of sadness and unease overwhelmed Boston College’s campus. While some students were pleased with the results of the election the previous day, many were experiencing shock, stress, and anger.
In the days following, the election was at the forefront of most people’s minds. Some professors cancelled classes (and even exams), dorms were abuzz with conversation, and the routine “how are you?” felt more meaningful than usual. But now that the initial shock has faded, many students are still left wondering how to work through their feelings to move forward.
Psychology professor Joseph Tecce has a four-step program for dealing with acute stress, called the 4 C’s, which could provide a good starting point. Tecce originally created the program in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, when students were left upset, anxious, and unsure of what to do next. While a presidential election cannot be equated with a terrorist attack, some similar emotional responses have appeared following the two events, so these steps may prove useful.
Step One: Catharsis
Catharsis, as defined by Google, is "the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions."
According to Tecce, “When a social event is stressful, you can initially react emotionally to it; just don’t make an important decision during that reaction and don’t hurt anyone else.”
This varies for each individual. Reactions can range from crying to screaming, from listening to loud music to having a long talk with a friend.
For some people, rallies that occurred in the wake of the election served as a form of catharsis. Abbey Mchugh, MCAS ‘20, attended a love rally in Boston following the election. Says Mchugh: “It was so empowering: from the chants to the body language of most of the people, you could tell it was nice to let loose your frustrations about the election and shout for a little bit in a supportive atmosphere.”
While a rally might not be the place for everyone, cathartic experiences like this one can help individuals work through their thoughts and feelings. Essentially, any expression of emotion is valid and justified as long as it doesn’t harm others physically or emotionally.
Step Two: Communication
Following catharsis, Tecce believes it’s important for affected students to discuss what they’re going through with others.
“It would be useful to talk about your feelings with someone and compare your thoughts with theirs,” he says.
Communicating with professors and classmates can be a means of working through things. In the days following the election, many professors allowed their classes to discuss how they felt about the outcome. These conversations don’t need to, and shouldn’t, end here.
Beyond the classroom, it can help to discuss with friends, call parents or other family members, or reach out to other allies to work through reactions. It’s often beneficial to verbally express thoughts and ideas and know that others understand and feel the same way.
Step Three: Compassion
This is often the result of communication. After listening and discussing with others who are struggling, one can express his or her compassion for other affected members of the community.
Tecce explains, “If you see someone suffering and hurt, if you see someone experiencing pain from the outcome, lend them a helping hand, and like magic, you’ll feel better yourself."
During last Monday’s Stand Against Hate rally on campus, dozens of students were able to express their compassion for others in the community. The event was comprised of an inner circle, or those who feel targeted on campus, and an outer circle, of people who don’t feel targeted themselves but who are willing to serve as allies for members of the inner circle. The inner circle chanted, “Who’s got my back?” and the outer circle replied, “We’ve got your back." Students held candles in solidarity with those who have been targeted and formed their hand into the international sign for love as speakers shared their experiences.
Beyond a public setting like this, compassion can be as simple as reaching out to a friend who is struggling or asking a classmate how they’re feeling. Allowing others to communicate their personal experiences and being understanding in return moves toward healing the community and working to replace stress and anger with love, hope, and unity.
Step Four: Continuity
Finally, figure out how life will continue from here. Tecce suggests, “Once you’re over the surprise or disappointment, map out an agenda to get on with your life. The more specific your plans are, the better they will make you feel.”
For those who were (and still are) upset with the election’s outcome, it may help to focus on how to take action to improve things. Call senators and congressmen. Join a club on campus. Look forward to how to make the changes you want to see rather than backwards at what could have been.
Obviously, this is not an exact formula and will vary between individuals with different emotions and experiences. Still, during hard times, the 4 C’s can provide a much-needed path forward for those who are still searching for one.