How to Maintain Your Sanity During Politically Insane Times

A primer on taking care of yourself & your country during political uncertainty.

Posted Jan 30, 2017

Forget the first 100 days... it's bad enough already. I feel so sick and stressed at the latest things he's bullied for, I can barely look at my sleeping children without wanting to break down when I consider their future. – Friend on Facebook

If you have a pulse, you’ve likely noticed the rising panic in your countrymen and women—and perhaps yourself— since Trump's inauguration. Whether your jaw seems perpetually clenched, your heart is habitually quickening, or your tummy is turbulent, you may be experiencing chronic levels of stress in your body and brain. Even if you voted for Trump, you may feel uneasy with his insistence on "alternative facts", his hostility toward the press, his subscription to conspiracy theories, or his willingness to seek counsel with unseemly characters. It’s unnerving that he is willing to wield power as if nothing is allowed to stop him. And during his first week in office, in a flurry of executive orders and failed diplomacy, he has flagrantly ignored the federal government’s policies, procedures, and political norms. As New York Times columnist Jim Rutenberg writes, “No one knows whether a year from now, we’ll see today’s fears as overblown, underblown, or on point.”

Understandably, many people are distressed about this political situation, and many view this as a dangerous time for our country, and even the world. It is frightening to wonder if our democracy is unraveling. Will hard-won civil rights be stripped? What about scientific research, public education, renewable energy, national parks, and protecting nature? Is law and order turning toward cruelty? Is Trump using the presidency to increase his wealth, while crippling the country with purposeful discrimination, shock events, and legal chaos? Is he making outrageous orders, and then smartly dialing them back in order to appease both the right and the left? (Read Heather Richardson's viral post on the significance of shock events, so that you can be part of the solution rather than lost in a sea of victims... and read about gaslighting, another manipulation technique here, so you can guard against it.)

Here are some tips for cultivating sanity, reducing your stress, and making a real difference in how this turns out for us all.

Walk the middle ground between complacency and hysteria. In other words, resist either putting your head in the sand or letting your imagination run wild with catastrophic predictions the resulting unwarranted fear. Both ends of the spectrum invite feelings of depression, anxiety, helplessness, passivity, burnout, which makes you fall victim to the regime. In contrast, walking the middle ground includes being vigilant, informed, and active, which keeps you in control and boosts feelings of power and self-determination.

Don’t succumb to clickbait. When you see an alarming headline, instead of clicking on the link, go to trusted news sources to “search” the topic. Here’s another way to think about it: When you go to a website, you boost advertising revenue. So vote with your clicks and support responsible journalism instead of lining the pockets of alarmists or fake news mongers.

Slow down your quest for information. Let go of the idea that you need to know it all now. Nobody can know it all now, including the people who are filling websites with content. Respect the fact that it takes time for journalists-with-integrity to research and write “developing news stories.” By waiting a day or even a week (or longer) later, when you do a search, you’re more likely to receive accurate facts, thorough information, and a well-rounded perspective. For instance, “Trump Repeals Obamacare” sounds alarming, but responsible reporting reveals that Trump merely signed a vague proclamation. It actually takes an act of Congress to repeal any aspect of the Affordable Care Act. In fact, executive orders can’t require anyone to break existing laws, and therefore many are political statements rather than edicts-- hence the filing of lawsuits.

Limit your screen time. As one friend noted, “All these Trump updates be stressin’ me out.” You may find it helpful to put yourself on a schedule, where you devote a certain amount of time each week to “staying informed.” Note that when tuning in gets too stressful, it’s time to tune out. And if the stress is interfering with your sleep, increasing your irritability with others, or making you feel hopeless or depressed, cut down your screen time even more. Rest assured, what’s beneficial to you is beneficial to the country’s future. By reducing your distress, you’ll avoid burnout and be able to stay politically and socially engaged.

Expand your advocacy beyond Facebook. Commiserating with like-minded friends can be important, as it can help you hone your thoughts and values. It’s also great to have a forum where you’re willing to speak up and speak out against injustice, foolish policies, and irresponsible governing. But use it to embolden you to take action in the real world, not just on the Internet.

Post responsibly. To avoid spreading false information on social media, check your sources, and link to news organizations that have integrity and align with ethics and truth in journalism. Just because a news story confirms your bias, this doesn’t mean it’s true. In other words, not every nightmarish story you read about Trump and his admin is true (Visit snopes.com, npr.org, and other reputable fact-checking websites early and often.) Also, refrain from insulting others, belittling their experiences, arguing with those who refuse to respectfully listen, or rudely dismissing other points of view.

Spend your energy wisely. Avoid wasting energy on self-pity, self-righteous indignation, or being convinced that doomsday predictions will come to fruition. Instead, focus on what is actually happening now, and put your energy toward taking action. For example, you might get into the habit of calling your Congressional representatives or attending your rep’s “town hall meetings” and voicing your positions on the issues. (Think your vote doesn’t count? Here's how to raise your voice and be heard, daily if you so desire!) Volunteer for a local charity, or donate to organizations that work for civil rights, equality, economic justice, nature conservation, and quality health care. Or perhaps you can be the strong and steady person that comforts others when they feel afraid or need wise counsel. Choose actions that inspire you, grow your skills, and align with your strengths.

Don’t cave into your baser instincts. If you’re feeling outraged, your anger is justified. It signals injustice and mobilizes you to do something about it. But as emotionally satisfying as it can feel to fight fire with fire, understand that adding to the flames is the absolute worst way to subdue a fire. Instead, be like water. Remain cool, calm, and collected. Resist instigating more drama or participating in bullying, belittling, cruel words, or violent deeds, which only gives the administration and its supporters more justification for intensifying the fire. Instead:

  • Fight lies with the simple truth, not hyperbole.
  • Fight questionable decisions with intelligent analysis and solution-seeking, not whining and handwringing.
  • Fight ignorance, racism, and judgmental close-mindedness with a curiosity borne of gentle open-mindedness—not equal and opposite close-mindedness.  
  • Fight ideology with critical thinking, not allegiance to another ideology.
  • Fight oppression by building strong, inclusive communities rather than trashing Trump’s deeds, words, mental health, or character, or deriving secret pleasure from his failings. (sanctuary cities)
  • Fight censorship and media-bashing by paying for subscriptions to respectful media outlets.
  • Fight injustice by being fair-minded and respectful in all your dealings with others.
  • Fight manipulation with resistance based on clear insight into those techniques.

Seek out ways to buoy your spirits. It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the increasingly grim news. Boost positive brain chemistry with physical touch, snuggling with people or pets. Listen to comedy, either political or not. Get adequate sleep. Move your body everyday. Get outside and bask in nature. Nurture your spiritual side. Get inspired by other conscientious citizens and politicians and business leaders who are speaking out. Mindfully take a few moments to breathe deeply, several times a day. Cultivating a positive mood boosts your ability to cope and to take action.

Excel in life. Taking care of yourself, your community, and your country requires energy and perseverance. And taking the high road requires discipline and emotional intelligence. But the best way to keep America great is for America’s residents to band together and excel in everything that is threatened. Excel in education, scientific inquiry, artistic and creative endeavors. Excel at kindness, integrity, fairness, generosity, and being consistently honest. Excel at tolerating diversity, embracing neighbors and strangers alike, and being a good steward of the Earth’s environment. Excel at aligning your actions with your values, and exercising your right to free speech, as in, when you see something that’s not right, stand up and say something.

NOTE: This post is dedicated to undocumented students who emigrated to this country as children with parents seeking safety, sanctuary, and a better life for their families. In particular, Indira inspired the last paragraph. Featured in a New York Times Magazine story by Dale Russakoff (Jan 25, 2017), Indira says, "The only way we can fight back is to excel." Read more about her here.