Four experts explain how to cope with anxiety caused by Donald Trump
So far, the road to the 2016 presidential election has been more like a terrifying parade of insults , fights and even featured the occasional white supremacist . It’s been an unpredictable campaign season; Donald Trump is looking increasingly more likely to be the Republican nominee , establishment candidates like Jeb Bush dropped out early and despite her best efforts, Hillary Clinton still hasn’t locked-in her place on the ballot. It’s no surprise we’re gripped with election anxiety.
Maybe you’re fearful of a president who flip flops or one who’ll take away your healthcare. Maybe you’re passionate about Bernie Sanders’ political revolution and worried it won’t happen. Perhaps you had been gripped by #Rubiomenteum only to see his strong head of hair bow out last night. There are still seven and a half months to go.
We asked a psychoanalyst, a cultural theorist and a meditation expert for their tips on how to navigate your election anxiety (things we haven’t included but go without saying: go for a walk, cuddle a baby, sip some whiskey).
Feel your feelings
It’s OK to be anxious and angry, says Dominic Pettman, a professor of culture at the New School and author of the upcoming book Infinite Distraction. “When I’m asked how people can have less stress, it makes me think of asking a lobster in a boiling pot how to chill out. The world is kind of intolerable for the 99%,” he says. “I think you just need to feel the stress, work with it, use it to transform things … Acknowledge the pot is getting hotter, it’s reaching boiling point and maybe anxiety is a perfectly legitimate response.”
Alternatively, psychoanalyst and author Jamieson Webster suggests channeling your inner Mr Spock and “look at [the election] as soberly as possible”. Face politics “without hysterical misery, without hysterical longing for an uber daddy president who is going to make it all better, without nostalgia for an America that’s gone, without melancholy”.
Either way, you’re in charge of your own feelings. “As a human being here in New York City, I can’t control what a politician does necessarily … the only thing I can control is my own reactions,” says Lodro Rinzler, a meditation teacher and founder of MNDFL, a meditation studio in Manhattan. “We can’t change how Donald Trump feels. We can change how we feel.”
Let it wash over you and realise it’s more theater than anything else.
Monitor your own social media
Fighting with Facebook friends might not be the best way to vent your frustration. “One option is to simply log off, and build community, friendship, solidarity offline,” suggests Pettman.
Alternatively, he suggests a deep dive into social media, engaging on a deep level and even creating your own political memes. “It becomes more than liking something or putting up a post,” said Pettman. “The meme has really become the default media communication unit. An image of [Hillary Clinton’s] policies compared to Bernie [Sanders’] in one snapshot, it’s a piece of propaganda but not made by the party machine but it’s been outsourced to the citizenry. Propaganda is now a cottage industry.”
Losing is sometimes winning
“Learning to lose is a very important lesson in life. We don’t always get what we want … which, in any case, is a recipe for disappointment,” Webster says, pointing out the excitement over Obama winning followed by the disappointment with his presidency. “So it’s a funny situation in which not getting what you want actually opens up more possibility than getting exactly what you think you wanted.”
If you’re feeling particular anger towards a candidate, Rinzler recommends thinking of statements about them – both positive and negative – and adding the sentence “just like me” to at the end. “Donald Trump wakes up every morning trying to do the best he can – just like me. Donald Trump doesn’t like getting called names – just like me. Donald Trump is a liar – just like me,” says Rinzler. “You know that experience. You’ve done and been through the same kind of emotional states.”
You can’t predict the future
“Anxiety is really, really difficult because anxiety is about the unknown,” says psychologist Webster, who suggests instead that people just face the cold hard fact that they can’t know the unknown. “I say this a lot to patients, you don’t know and you don’t get to know and you can’t know. It’s terrifying. I understand that. But it’s the confrontation between fantasy and reality, which is inescapable.”
To combat the inability to predict an election, Pettman suggests looking way beyond November 2016 and thinking generationally about how you want to participate in politics for the whole of society, rather than just focusing on your own personal woes. “What are you doing today that people today in 40, 50, 100 years will benefit from?” he asks.
Enjoy the spectacle of the Greatest Show on Earth
Pettman quotes the famous “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal” line by anarchist Emma Goldman. “Be philosophical about that, to let it wash over you and realise it’s more theater than anything else,” he says.
“And to understand it’s what [philosopher and University of Chicago academic] Lauren Berlant calls a case of ‘cruel optimism’, which is where something you’re hoping for, or something you desire is actually stopping you from flourishing. So to let go of the cruelty of the optimism and to just watch the parade.”