Duane Hoffmann / msnbc.com
msnbc.com contributor
updated 11/5/2008 7:23:03 AM ET 2008-11-05T12:23:03

It’s the day after the election, and as usual, America’s come down with the world’s largest case of manic-depressive disorder. Half of the country is crying, calling in sick, or threatening, like conservative actor Stephen Baldwin, to move out of the country. The other half is dancing on their desks, buying drinks for strangers in bars, and gloating shamelessly every time a Republican walks by.

But with emotions still raw from the two-year-long hotly contested campaign, how are people supposed to behave now that it’s over?

For starters, we may want to acknowledge that it’s not quite over yet.

Barack Obama may have won the election , but that doesn't mean the feelings of high anxiety have suddenly vanished. All presidential campaigns get rough, but this year's election was historic on almost all levels — not only with regard to race and gender, but the intensity of voter passion. Things got so divisive even some trick-or-treating kids had to declare the right political affiliation in order to get candy.

Throw in the ongoing panic over the global economy and the lingering Democratic resentment about the last two elections and you’ve got what one political expert refers to as a “perfect storm” for election intensity.

“It’s the stuff that ulcers are made of,” says Jack Glaser, associate professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy at University of California, Berkeley.

Not to mention deep-seated rancor. So many Americans became so obsessed with the presidential race that it could take huge efforts to maintain cordial relationships with friends, family or colleagues on the opposite side.

“By the time an election comes to an end, it seems that the other side is evil and they have horns growing out of their heads,” says Shaun Dakin, 42, of Falls Church, Va., founder of a nonpartisan political nonprofit. “It seems like we’ll never talk again, but then we all go back to work. You give it a couple of days or weeks or whatever and then you move on.”

Or as John McCain said in his concession speech Tuesday, focus on bridging the divide between you and your political adversaries. Still, it could be a challenge for many people to move on — that is, smooth ruffled feathers and keep friendships from falling apart  — after such a sea changing event.

Be a gracious winner
For those who actually make it into the office this morning, try to steer clear of heated political conversations and concentrate on your work, experts say. Even if you do discuss the election, it’s a really bad idea to shout “in your face!” to your Republican colleagues.

Video: 2008: Obama announces 'change has come to America' “You need to be a gracious winner,” says Jodi R.R. Smith, founder of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting of Marblehead, Mass. “You want to validate your friend or co-worker’s opinion, even though you don’t agree with it. Say something kind and sincere about the other person’s candidate.”

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In the case of McCain, acknowledge that he really is a patriot who served our country in the military. Tell them that the way he endured and survived as a POW is something that should be commended.

If your guy lost, you can also show there are no hard feelings by calling or e-mailing friends or family members, saying simply, “‘It looks like your guy won this year,’” says Smith. “With co-workers, just say, ‘Congrats, it was a tough election and your candidate pulled through,’ and then change the subject.”

Given the monumental significance placed on this presidential race, feelings of despair or the kind of loss associated with the death of a loved one aren't unexpected. But no matter how the stock market reacts or what your cranky neighbor says about the country’s future, try to get back to your daily routine as soon as you can, experts say.

“Take your spouse out a few times. Get into your kids’ football game,” advises Dr. Stuart Twemlow, a psychiatrist at The Menninger Clinic and professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. “Repair to the satisfaction of day-to-day life.”

Don’t lose perspective
Don't put politics before the people who matter in your life, says Anna Post of the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vt. “You may need some space from certain people until things have calmed down, but it’s important to remember that there’s a reason you love and value them.”

Andrew Langer, 37, president of The Institute for Liberty, a Washington, D.C. conservative public policy think tank, had maintained a congenial relationship with a Democrat friend since high school, but they had a falling out in 2004 over the George W. Bush vs. John Kerry election.

“When I called him after the election, he went into this frustrated diatribe about how he couldn’t understand how people could vote for Bush a second time,” says Langer. “When I offered up a handful of reasons, he slammed down the phone. I didn’t talk to him for 18 months after that and our friendship still has never really healed.”

The 2008 election has also fractured relationships. Bonnie Russell, a media relations executive from Del Mar, Calif., got into a tussle with her friend of 40 years over Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

“I was so incredulous that she thought Palin was in any way viable that she got mad and hung up on me,” says Russell, who gave her age as “fiftysomething.” “I sent her an e-mail afterwards that said, I guess ‘I’ll talk to you after the election.’ But she didn’t write back.”

It’s bad enough to fall out with a close friend, but with the holidays approaching, lingering bitterness could also ruin family get-togethers. Post recommends setting boundaries in advance and alert family members that the holidays will be a politics-free event. Or blame the economy for not traveling and don't attend.

“If there’s no possible way you can make it through a family visit peacefully, then canceling is OK,” she says.

Expect a letdown
If your party has lost and you're having a hard time letting go, a "wake" or a gathering of like-minded friends could be a good way to express your emotions, says Post. “But make sure only use it as an opportunity to make yourself feel better,” says Post. “Don’t use it as a way to stick it to the guy whose candidate has won.”

Whether your party wins or loses, expect a letdown, says Twemlow.

“Politics can give you a bit of a high, almost like a drug,” he says. “The real world is set aside. But you come back to that world after an election and there can be a letdown. Realize that you just got caught up, and that things will settle down shortly.”

Finally, it’s one thing to call in sick on the morning after the election, but you shouldn’t be moping about the election three months later.

“The world goes on and you have a family and real people to think about,” says Twemlow. "People need to pay attention to the details of their lives and to their family.”

Diane Mapes is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "How to Date in a Post-Dating World."

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