9 Way to Preserve Your Sanity in the Trump Era

These steps can reduce anxiety, increase serenity, and make you a good citizen.

Posted Jul 11, 2018

Politics is never as personal as when it affects you personally. You can become woke mighty fast when your basic human rights are considered controversial and your very existence an affront to those in power. Just ask anyone who happens to be LGBT, black, brown, or female in America today who does not support Donald Trump and the Republican Party. Many of us are feeling increased anxiety aroused by what have become daily assaults on our hearts, our intelligence, our peace of mind, and even our sense of safety.

Fortunately, there are ways to stay woke while also preserving your sanity.

Some 40 million Americans experience anxiety, the most common mental health illness in the United States, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

The Calm Center, an informational website for people affected by anxiety, reports that while addressing all anxiety involves making lifestyle changes to control it, there are specific changes you can make to reduce what it calls “Donald Trump Anxiety.”

Drawing from the center’s list, and others I gleaned from a range of sources, I’ve put together these nine concrete steps that can help you stay aware and informed while dialing down the stress that awareness and information can produce when they aren't buffered, and that can be harmful to your health.

1. Get active. Of course you should vote. But you can do more than vote. Translate your anger into action. Get involved in a neighborhood association, volunteer, call your elected representatives, organize rallies, protest, or even engage in good old American civil disobedience.

2. Join in community. Just as friends and (functional) family can help reduce other anxiety, being among people working toward similar political and social goals can support your sense of hope.

3. Limit social media. It’s easy to fall into the time vortex while on Facebook and Twitter, and equally easy to become consumed with stress as our contacts vent and share yet more examples of outrageous behavior and rhetoric emanating from Washington.

4. Watch your words. Keep a critical eye on how you frame the story of what you see or hear, and be equally critical of the words, language, and "factualness of the facts" you and others use in speaking about other people and framing the story.

5. Go outdoors. Breathe the open air, walk or hike, ride a bike, or simply sit in the sunshine. All of these are anxiety-busters.

6. Stay educated. Information is power, and the more you know about politics and the political process, the more you will also know what you should and shouldn’t be concerned about.

7. Read about resistance and resilience. At the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick, Maryland, minister Carl Gregg said the church’s summer 2017 reading of dystopian fiction—George Orwell’s 1984, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents—made it clear that “these books are not about hopelessness and despair. They are cautionary tales, but they also expose paths of resistance and resilience.”

John-Manuel Andriote/photo
Source: John-Manuel Andriote/photo

8. Mindfully resist. Robert Wright, author most recently of Why Buddhism is True and publisher of the Mindful Resistance Newsletter, pointed out in a Vox article ("Mindful resistance' is the key to defeating Trump") that Donald Trump excels at pushing people’s emotional buttons and stirring up outrage within his supporters and against himself, which further inflames his supporters. “Trump’s habitual encouragement of outrage helps him,” says Wright, “assuming we cooperate by getting outraged, by reacting to his provocations unreflectively.”

You can reduce your instinctively outraged reaction by cultivating what Wright calls “politically potent mindfulness,” even if you don’t meditate. He notes that in Buddhist tradition, being mindful means being “so aware of fear that you are not ruled by it.” Mindfulness, he says, “is meant to give you all the alertness and focus that caffeine and fear bring, but without the overreaction.”

As an example, Wright cites a much-retweeted September 24, 2017 tweet by Pod Save America podcast host Jon Lovett that said, “The president is a terrible person surrounded by terrible people stoking the terrible instincts of terrible followers for terrible purposes.” When I checked on July 11, 2018, it had been retweeted 7,627 times and had 34,924 "likes." You might also agree with Lovett and yield to the urge to retweet. “But suppose,” says Wright, “rather than obeying this urge, you observe it mindfully and pause long enough to ask this question: Given that many Trump followers are motivated partly by their sense that coastal elites hold them in contempt, isn’t it counterproductive for coastal elite Jon Lovett to call them all ‘terrible’?”

Says Wright, “If such questions lead you to not click ‘retweet,’ then congratulations: You’ve just engaged in a small act of mindful resistance.”

9. Carefully deploy indignation. This is also known as “choosing your battles.” Says Wright, “[I]ndignation is a resource to be deployed carefully, on occasions when its importance outweighs its tendency to reinforce Trump’s self-serving persecution narrative.” Instead of joining the earned mockery of Melania Trump’s wearing high heels to survey hurricane damage and a jacket reading “I Don’t Care. Do U?” to check upon incarcerated children separated from their parents by her husband’s anti-immigrant policy, save your anger for the policy itself.

The main goal of these steps is to allay your anxiety, support your resilience, and calm your mind. As Wright puts it, “A peaceful mind can be a fearsome mind.” Fearsome, functional minds and resilient, resistant souls are mighty fortresses against anxiety—even when the source of our stress sits in the Oval Office. They are also precisely what we need to get through these trying times without losing our mind.