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For the losing side: How to handle the post-election hangover

By Stephanie Chen, CNN
GOP candidate Meg Whitman reaches out to supporters after ending  her run for governor of California on Tuesday evening.
GOP candidate Meg Whitman reaches out to supporters after ending her run for governor of California on Tuesday evening.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dr. Ivan Walks: Post-election stress can affect supporters and voters on the losing side
  • He says voters who feel stressed should try to stay engaged, talk to family, friends
  • Supporters of a loser in the election can try to broaden his or her outlook, Walks says
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(CNN) -- For weeks -- even months -- you may have been caught up in the election frenzy. You've been jazzed about a candidate or a cause. Perhaps you've volunteered for a campaign or proudly planted a sign in your yard.

The results are announced and the winners start celebrating their campaign victory, but for the losers, an election loss can easily turn personal.

CNN spoke to Dr. Ivan Walks, a public health physician and psychiatrist who has studied stress for more than two decades, about post-election blues. He is the former chief health officer for the District of Columbia.

CNN: Does post-election stress exist among voters?

Dr. Ivan Walks: Absolutely. People really engage in politics because they know things can change. When their candidate loses, they can be profoundly disappointed, and it can lead to negative things.

People can also spend a lot of money [during an election]. When you personally go out and get people to write the checks and your team loses, there's a certain sense of obligation, and you feel bad. I have met people who talk about how embarrassed they are, and how they feel like their judgment is being questioned by those around them. They feel like they've lost a certain amount of respect in their community.

CNN: How can stress after a major election affect a person's life?

Walks: It can have a lot of very serious effects. Some people who were backing the losing candidate might continue to accuse the other side and are unable to let go. I've seen that happen. People can be depressed and let that spiral into a depression.

CNN: How are families and communities affected?

Walks: One of the challenges for communities is people who are very active can disengage after the election, and you can have a leadership vacuum that can emerge on the losing side.

At the family level, what happens when your husband, wife, mom or dad has been out, day after day, walking the streets and walking up to doors? What happens when you come home after all of this effort and you have to look at your family and say you lost?

CNN: Are there positive lessons to take away from being on the losing side?

Walks: If you are someone who looks at the big picture, and your candidate does lose, there is a tremendous opportunity to maybe, in the first time in the whole election cycle, look at what the other person is saying and figure out why the other side's message resonated differently.

Maybe you can begin to broaden your perspective. If you really want the world to be a better place, ask yourself if there is a way to now integrate and to continue to work for that cause -- understanding the environment is different. That way, you are not so much behind enemy lines.

CNN: How can voters stop moping over the loss?

Walks: Taking out those huge signs; some people have those big billboards in their yards. I see people with bumper stickers still on their cars from two years ago. I think people have to remove those things in order to begin to heal.

My advice would be, if your candidate lost, try to do a lot of listening and try to talk about how you feel. You can express yourself by saying, "I really feel like my side didn't get heard" or "I feel like I really lost something." If people care about you, even if they disagree with your political views, they are going to feel for you. Stop trying to rehash the election.

CNN: Isn't there also comfort in knowing there will be other elections in the future?

Walks: That's sort of a tough thing to swallow. I have to sit here and be disappointed for two years. How about, instead, saying, "For the next two years, here's what we are going to do differently, and we are going to make sure the real interest is addressed."

A lot can happen in two years, and if you are going to disengage completely and then come back, I don't know how that helps things.

CNN: So what are some immediate things people can do to overcome the loss?

Walks: Find ways to connect with people who share your experience. Don't just disappear and go to your house. Find other people who are feeling concerned and sad, and see if you can reach out to others. You may feel bad, and there may be someone there you can talk to.

Also, re-engage with things you have stopped doing. Over the last several days, things may have been hectic. If you haven't gone to church in a few weeks, go. If you missed your kids' soccer game -- all of the things that make up the rest of your life during the election lulls -- then let them come back into your life.

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