Coping With Trump Anxiety
Problem-solving a new societal angst
Posted Feb 09, 2017
I am a therapist. Since the Trump election virtually all of my clients have added to our treatment agenda of distress a palpable and perpetual societal angst.
This unsettling trend seems made up of heightened negative emotional states (sadness, grief, fear, anger, frustration, etc.) and pronounced worry about societal injustice, dysfunction and catastrophy.
I dub it Trump Anxiety (you heard it here first), and what follows are a few steps and tips for healthy coping.
The likely first step is to name (already did) and validate the issue. Meaning, there is a very real threat at work. This new Trump Era brings with it a predictable and concrete increase in risk of societal incompetence which, in turn, will create greater sources of distress and injustice and more instances of avoidable harm and stunted progress...for all, especially the disenfranchised.
In other words, this fucking sucks.
With the painfully harsh reality laid squarely on the table, the next step is radical acceptance.
We must fully realize that we are stuck with the Trump Era and this associated anxiety whether we like it or not. We can’t undo it or change it, and we will only amplify the distress if we replay or wrestle with it.
At the same time, since Trump Anxiety breeds unavoidable and righteous negative emotions like sadness, fear, anger and frustration, we have to channel these emotions constructively. So after the radical acceptance step, we must take the lingering emotional energy and intentionally channel it through healthy choices and behaviors.
There are always only two options in this vein - suppress or express.
Emotional suppression is rarely a healthy long-term strategy, but it can be useful and minimally damaging if selectively implemented in the short-term. Meaning, feel free to treat your Trump Anxiety with selective blinders. Lock in on personal life, minimize news intake, and emphasize healthy distraction in your free time.
If you chose expression of Trump Anxiety emotions (it will happen inevitably so try and stay ahead of it) try to steer clear of apathy, withdrawal or violent protest as outlets and consider more pro-social, prudent, and moderate options - anger into sports and exercise, sadness and fear into joining peaceful groups and organizations, dispassionate debates with others, and assertions of personal political power (e.g. vote, and blow up your congressman’s cell phone and email, etc.).
Amped-up big picture threat is another likely piece of the Trump Anxiety puzzle. And since our minds have a habit of disproportionately tuning into negative information, and our subconscious has a habit of assuming the worst, there is a layer of irrational and disproportionate fear embedded in the Trump Anxiety that must be teased out and reality checked.
So, for instance, take a deep breath and reassure yourself that Trump’s dangerousness is contained by powerful systemic checks and balances, and that society rarely changes all that much, especially in a four-year time span, at which point there stands an excellent chance of a political pendulum swing.
Or something like that.
To further chip away at Trump Anxiety notice, if not savor, the positives. Smell the roses, make lemonade, and find that silver lining within the distressing ripple effects of the Trump Era. For instance, in the immediate aftermath of the disturbing and maladaptive Muslim Ban there were symbolic (airport protests) and tangible (legal countermeasures and judicial blockades) signs of healthy resistance.
Finally, there is at least one more deeper and deceivingly complicated piece to the Trump Anxiety phenomenon that relates to identity and the groups to which we belong.
In addition to ethnicity, sexuality, religiosity, statehood, etc., our identity is made up of memberships to different groups the broadest of which is the “American” group. It is unsettling to feel disconnection and disrepair in any of the important identity-groups (disagreement within the group often meant abandonment and death during ancestoral times and our subconscious still feels this way). To shake off this layer of discomfort I advise tightening your relationship with the many other, favored identity-memberships (“I feel secure and pleased with my state, Massachusetts!”) in life. Be mindful to pair this strategic psychological distancing (from the "American" group) with the reality that in order to repair disconnection stress, there must be a willingness to engage in open and receptive dialogue with "the other side."
You cannot resolve that which you avoid.
Bottom line prescription: Take two Advil and call me in four years...