Singing the Post-Election Blues

After one of the most divisive elections in recent American history, much of the nation is still reeling from the emotional fallout of the campaign and the election returns.

"I haven't gotten out of bed all day," said Chris Barr, a Phoenix photographer and Democratic National Committee volunteer. "I'm having to reassess my whole belief system. I just feel drained."

Across the country, the news that President Bush defeated Sen. John Kerry has left coffee shops and chat rooms filled with people expressing relief, jubilation, anger, despair and bitterness.

Responses on ABCNews.com's Election Message Board range from fearful -- "I can honestly say that this is the lowest point at which I have ever seen this country and I am truly afraid of the path we are on" -- to elated: "As the mother of an Airman I'm thrilled that the right man for our military has been re-elected."

It's a Family Affair

These feelings are drawn in sharp relief when family members or co-workers have sparred throughout the election season over candidates or political hot-button issues like same-sex marriage.

Barr and his mother sit on opposite sides of the political fence, and their pre-election spats have split their family in half. "We haven't spoken in several weeks," Barr said of his mother, "and I really don't want to talk to her right now."

Their divisiveness mirrors the sentiments expressed by candidates and voters alike through this long election season.

"There's been a lack of civility in the way people have discussed this election," says W. Robert Nay, clinical psychologist, associate professor at Georgetown University Medical School and author of "Taking Charge of Anger: How to Resolve Conflict, Sustain Relationships, and Express Yourself without Losing Control."

"Passions have run pretty high, and there are a lot of hard feelings about what the president has done and about things that Kerry has said," Nay added.

"But many people are happy about having a resolution," Nay said of the final results of the presidential election. "We have a clear outcome here. You get relief from closure. What really provokes stress is uncertainty and a lack of control."

Winning Gracefully

Nay said how the winners conduct themselves can go a long way toward helping the exhausted electorate get back to normal. "How Bush handles things will have a lot of do with how quickly we recuperate," he said.

Nay also recommends that supporters of the Bush administration deal with their victory gracefully. "Those who supported Bush should not focus on gloating, but on the fact that we all need to be conciliatory."

Those who supported Kerry will need time to manage their feelings of anger, betrayal or sadness. Nay recommends using that energy to engage in discussions about how to proceed now that the election is over. "They need to ask themselves, 'What can I do now?'" he said. "But hanging onto ill feelings can physically make you sick."

Working Through a Loss

The feelings of loss that follow a losing political campaign are often similar to those that follow the loss of a loved one.

"It's normal to feel sad," said Nay. "Many have experienced a loss, and they're grieving."

Some Kerry supporters may need some time to adjust.

"I was optimistic until late last night, then I started to get really worried. This morning when I looked at the Web [for election results], I felt hopeless," said Orlando Frizado, a graduate student at New York University.

"This is something that's not going to go away," he said. "It feels like a loss, like a death."

Nay said those who are working through difficult emotions following this election should remember that grieving follows the same steps, regardless of the kind of loss.

"The same stages are there in any loss: disbelief, sadness, bargaining, anger, then resolution," he said. "What's important is moving toward a plan for what you can do now."

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