Post-election blues got you down? Are you frustrated your candidate didn’t win? Luckily, recent research suggests there are several things you can do to turn those negative emotions into productive outcomes.
Many people watching the presidential election results experienced a range of negative emotions including anger, fear, sadness, and despair. These emotions, if unchecked, can often lead to non-functional or counterproductive outcomes such as vengeful retaliation, withdrawal (should I move to Canada?), or increased sadness and depression. For example, think of your friend or family member who took to Facebook or Twitter to rant or vent about the outcome of the election. This rarely solves anything and only serves to create a cycle whereby others respond in kind with negative posts.
However, this does not have to be the case. My research, forthcoming in the Academy of Management Review, has explored cases in which specific negative emotions, such as fear or anger, can sometimes generate positive outcomes in the form of proactive, rather than reactive, responses. The key here is to recognize that experiencing anger and fear provides energy to act, and that there are times when we can guide this energy to help achieve important goals or change the situation productively. Further, when controlled, anger can lead to constructive action to correct an injustice, whereas fear and anxiety can lead to careful planning. Control here means to think differently about the emotion and the situation. This means thinking about anger as motivational fuel to change the situation rather than lash out against someone else. It means not letting fear turn into despair, but rather using one’s anxiety to avoid negative outcomes in the future, such as getting an early start on an important task. Being able to control, or regulate, one’s emotions is a way people can feel that productive outcomes are possible.
While some people are skilled in controlling their negative emotions productively, others are not. The good news is that you don’t have to do this on your own. Seeking out friends or co-workers can be instrumental here. They may help you think differently about the situation, or more importantly, help you brainstorm new outlets through which to channel your negative emotions. Or they may help you realize that you’ve handled challenges and negative situations successfully in the past, and that you have the resources to do so this time around.
Another action step is to re-direct or re-focus the negative experience of anger and fear. This is particularly useful with anger, which readies us to take overt action. In this case, people can re-direct their anger on behalf of others. Doing so makes anger more constructive, rather than destructive, in its intent. This could mean thinking of ways to volunteer or donate to organizations that support your values or political party. It could also mean finding ways to help other people deal with the situation. Or it could mean channeling one’s anger to think of means to constructively speak up about issues of importance. If you take this latter option, a note of caution I offer is to ensure that you take the time to think about what you write and say; otherwise anger could direct your energies to more vengeful responses.
Re-directing fear can be challenging, but it presents an opportunity. Here, when people perceive that others won’t (or can’t) take action, feeling a personal sense of responsibility can drive feelings of fear toward productive action. In this situation, people can think about what needs to be done, and then believe they are responsible to create change. For politicians (or even political parties), this could mean using current anxiety to drive efforts to recruit new candidates for the next round of midterm and presidential elections. This would help productively channel fear and anxiety, providing those candidates ample time to proactively prepare their campaign and hone their messaging and slogans, which in turn may assuage potential future anxiety about those elections.
There is an important caveat here. The steps I have described do not suggest that you should create negative emotions in yourself or others. Rather, this advice is for action steps once you have already experienced negative emotions.
In summary, in order to make one’s post-election negative emotions functional, people should (1) regulate their emotions either on their own or with the support of friends/colleagues, and (2) re-direct their frustration toward a cause or helping people rather than acting against others or the opposing political party. Without these steps, the likelihood for non-functional responses to anger and fear increases.