Trump Anxiety

Are you suffering from ‘Trump anxiety’?

This is my column this week in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday...

Is “Trump anxiety” a thing? I’ve read about it, and am worried I might have it.” Concerned

I’m pretty sure there is such a thing because I’m suffering from it as well. I’m also not sure it’s anxiety. I think the fear is utterly rational.

I lived in the States for two years, even held a green card, and I still have soft spot for the place – although I suspect the combination of my beard and my views on human rights mean I may struggle to go there now.

Admittedly, I am a bit of a politics geek but of late I’ve found myself strangely compelled to constantly know the latest news from US politics, check social media compulsively, and worry about the latest updates.

It’s like there’s a part of my brain now dedicated to “Trump”, and I can’t turn it off. It’s weirdly addictive and horrifying at the same time and I don’t know whether I should be scared or I just need a holiday from the news.

When it comes to anxiety, psychotherapy is rightly concerned with the wellbeing of the individual. My interest as a therapist is in what decisions and actions will be best for the person sitting in front of me.

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From that point of view the obvious advice is to turn the news off: Tune out, do what works, don’t worry about what you can’t control.

There is also another point of view. But it is harder.

If you’re affected by Trump, and the events in America, odds are it’s because you care. I know I do.

But caring hurts.

It gets in. It gets under your skin. And one of the natural responses to being bombarded (or bombarding yourself) with news updates of the ongoing horror, is to feel overwhelmed. One of the things we know about modern news and the social media environment is it’s bad for our brains, some even cynically suggest it’s designed to overwhelm us.

“Switching off” however, starts to look a lot like denial. It may feel helpful, but it’s still denial.

What, then, is the prescription for overwhelm? Action, and finding meaning.

Meaningful action moves us away from overwhelm, hopelessness and despair, and towards a sense of purpose.

Some also say that action and outrage is pointless, that protest is dead. It’s unclear whether the recent protest marches will impact policy, but what if the primary aim of protest isn’t to change anything, but merely to maintain your own mental health?

If taking action only makes you feel better isn’t that alone a reason to do it? And even better if it also makes a difference.

Fortunately the good people at Action Station have put together a practical list that I suggest you check out: “Here are five things you can do for refugees today”.

As the protest placards say: “Love Trumps Hate”. It’s also true that “Compassion Trumps Anxiety”, but I guess that’s harder to fit on a sign.

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