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Joe Biden addresses the nation after election victory
24:19 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

While US President Donald Trump continues to fight the outcome of the election, his supporters are facing the likelihood that President-Elect Joe Biden will take the presidential oath of office on January 20.

Mourning a presidential candidate’s loss at the polls can be extremely painful – twice as painful as the loss reported by people reacting to national tragedies.

That’s according to research examining the 2012 presidential election by Todd Rogers, a behavioral scientist and professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Supporters pause in prayer at a rally following President Trump's loss to President-elect Biden.

“Whoever wins, half the country is going to be depressed at really intense levels, in addition to the anger and who knows what else,” said Rogers, who is also the faculty director of the Kennedy School’s Behavioral Insights Group. The group focuses on improving how decisions are made by individuals and public policy leaders.

“Partisanship is such a core part of the American identity that election outcomes have a really deep impact on happiness.”

Rogers and his colleagues gathered ratings of sadness and happiness after Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney lost to the incumbent, President Barack Obama in 2012.

They compared those responses to ratings of loss and pain after two national tragedies: the 2013 Boston marathon bombing and the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting, which killed 20 children and six adults.

The study found Romney partisans reported twice as much sadness and depression as parents with children experienced after the elementary school shooting – and twice as much painful emotion as Boston residents reacting to the carnage of the marathon bombings.

“The big development over the last two decades or so is the growing polarization of the American party system,” said Christopher Federico, who directs the University of Minnesota’s Center for the Study of Political Psychology.

“For anyone who identifies with one party or the other, it makes for a situation where the stakes seem higher if those other guys take over,” Federico said. “They’re going to represent people that are very different from me, and they’re going to pursue aims that are very different from the ones that I want to see pursued by the government.”

Bouncing back

There is a bright side: the resiliency of human nature.

“We are remarkably adaptive to major kinds of acute stress … losing a spouse, losing a job, things like that,” said social psychologist Brett Ford, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto and the director of the Affective Science & Health Laboratory.

“It can take a while, but people do bounce back,” she said.

When it comes to the intense depression experienced by the loss of your chosen candidate, research also shows that too will fade – and relatively quickly.

“Typically people feel very very bad, based on something happening, and then after a short while they go back to their default level of happiness or well being,” said Matthew Feinberg, an associate professor who researches how politics impacts stress and well-being at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

For example, after the Trump win in the 2016 election a study found liberals reported short-term increases in depression, Feinberg said.

“But over the long haul, what they found was that for liberals, the negative health consequences of the election dissipated, and they returned back to the levels that that existed beforehand,” he said.

Give yourself time to grieve

If you are mourning the outcome of the 2020 election, “give yourself time to grieve; it’s a loss,” said Vaile Wright, American Psychological Association’s senior director of health care innovation.

“There’s no right or wrong way to grieve, and there’s no set amount of time to grieve in – it can look different for different people,” Wright added. “So don’t judge yourself. Let yourself be in that moment. At the end of the day, it really comes down to practicing acceptance.”

Negative feelings do not replace all of the positives in our lives, experts say, so try to focus on the up moments.

“Our negative emotions or unpleasant feelings are not mirror opposite of our positive feelings. They are separate, they are unique,” Ford said. “You can cultivate some measure of positive emotion, even in dark moments.”

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Focusing on people and issues you care about can be helpful at this time, said Tania Israel, author of “Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide: Skills and Strategies for Conversations That Work.

“I would encourage you to to get engaged if you’re disappointed in the outcome of the election. I hope that a loss is not going to be an impetus for you to check out from our democracy, I think we need everybody to participate,” Israel said.

After all, America is a melting pot of different cultures, ideas and perspectives, “but we’re not always sharing our ideas with each other and comfortable with those differences,” Israel said.

“If we focus on how do we all come together to try to strengthen our democracy,” she said. “That’s something I would hope that people on both sides and in the middle could get behind.”