It appears that so many people are really upset and in a state of panic about the upcoming American presidential inauguration on Friday. The dramatic shift from President Obama to President Trump is certainly a head spinning and sharp contrast in leadership style, perspective, and priorities. Over 50 representatives in congress (thus far) have publicly stated that they will boycott the inauguration ceremony and festivities while the women’s protest march on Washington is growing larger than expected with similar marches planned in almost every city across the country the day following the inauguration. Tension, panic, discombobulation, and intense fear are in the air and repeatedly reported on in the news. From a psychological perspective, what can anxious and freaked-out citizens do to cope? While there are no simple answers or solutions that will work for everyone, three psychological informed principles might be helpful to consider. These include the following:
1. Control what you can and let go of what you can’t control.
Part of the panic that grips people is associated with being or feeling out of control. It is a bit like watching a train wreck unfold before your eyes in that you can’t do anything to stop it but you want to control the situation so that the inevitable doesn’t happen. Taking stock of what you can control and do to manage your upset might include attending a march, signing a petition (or creating one yourself), contacting your elected officials to articulate your views, and talking with others who are sympathetic to your feelings and opinions. Additionally, it is helpful to take stock of what you can’t control and work hard to accept it. Asking supportive others to help remind you of what you can and can't control may be of value as well.
2. Be thoughtful about media exposure.
Living in a 24/7 news cycle with constant “breaking news” to grab your attention can make anxiety worse. You can easily get wrapped up watching endless hours of news updates via numerous media outlets including social media. News that is presented in attention grabbing ways often with hysterical headlines and outbursts by talking heads can make fears so much worse. Being vigilant about limiting your exposure to news to brief and manageable doses, attending to reliable (and perhaps calming) news sources, and avoiding the intensity of in-your-face and “gotcha” style coverage is highly recommended.
3. Remind yourself of who you are and who you want to become.
While controlling the behavior of others is usually frustrating and impossible to do you can control your own behavior and focus on the values and type of person you want to be and to become. For example, being respectful, kind, gracious, and caring to others may be organizing and centering qualities that can act as a foil to the kind of rancor witnessed and experienced during current times. Being attentive to your own ethical principles and priorities in life may help keep yourself calm when feeling anxious. I recommend using the easy to remember RRICC model representing respect, responsibility, integrity, competence, and concern for others as a mantra. Or, if you want something even easier to remember, consider the RC model (i.e., respect and compassion). Holding onto valued and perhaps sacred ethical principles can help you cope better and feel good about your approach to challenging stress.
We certainly live in a remarkable time of transition that is likely very stressful for many. It is easy to get swept up in the hysteria and upset. Even if there are many good reasons to be upset we still need to find ways to cope as best as we can with these new and transitional challenges. While these three suggestions are not magical in any way they may help to move you in the right direction to help find some peace and calm in the middle of a remarkable and turbulent storm.
Copyright 2017, Thomas G. Plante, PhD, ABPP