This morning, many of my friends were echoing the same refrain: “I feel like crap.” We were headache-y. Queasy. Anxious. Foggy. It actually felt a lot like a hangover, except it wasn’t brought on by alcohol. It was a post-presidential debate hangover. And it was rough.
“People are digesting an event that is leaving them emotionally overwhelmed. Usually when this happens, we experience the lingering effects for hours, sometimes even days after,” says Mariel Buquè, PhD, a trauma therapist.
I picture it as similar to being in a car crash. Hours later — as the rush of adrenaline wears off — you might suddenly realize you’re exhausted and achy and upset. You might still feel a little shaky the following day. For many, watching last night’s debate may have had a similar impact.
“Our nervous systems were on overdrive,” Dr. Buquè says. “They need a moment to cool off and help us get back to a place of balance. That’s why there’s a lingering effect.”
Any emotionally charged, potentially traumatic event can elicit a physical response like this, she says. “Racially minoritized folx are especially vulnerable to this experience, because we understand that there are large stakes for us,” Dr. Buquè explains, adding that this awareness can create a harmful state of hyperarousal. “This debate had a similar effect on many,” she says, “like we reached a level of collective hopelessness that has been hard to shake off. So it’s likely that many of us will be struggling to even get our regulatory system to help us feel well.”
If you still feel like you’re slogging through mud after watching the debate, Dr. Buquè suggests trying to be around friends and loved ones who you can talk to about how you feel. She also recommends grounding practices. These are techniques that help you focus on the present moment: putting down your phone and taking a few minutes to really savor a meal; breathing deeply; taking a walk, stretching, or going for a run.
“But communal care is key,” she says. “We need to know that we are not alone and have some power to shift things rather than sit in grief.”
And ahead of the next presidential debate on October 15 (do we really need another one?), consider taking some proactive steps to protect your health. “Cope ahead strategies are used with frequency in therapy,” Dr. Buquè notes. “Getting ahead of the reaction by doing some self-care prior to is essential. Jumping right into these debates with no wellness plan can leave you more vulnerable to the lingering overwhelm.”
Everyone’s self-care looks different, so do what feels right to you. Try to avoid participating in activities you’ll find upsetting on an empty stomach, or if you’re overly tired. Wear something comfortable, and if you can, make sure you’re with loved ones. And if needed, be ready to turn it off.