Coping with Trump Stress Disorder

A month into the Trump Administration, many Americans are stressed out.  A recent study by the American Psychological Association (http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2016/coping-with-change.pdf) revealed, “more Americans reporting symptoms of stress and citing personal safety and terrorism as sources of stress.”  57 percent of respondents said “the current political climate is a very or somewhat significant source of stress.”

It’s because of Donald Trump.  Writing in the February 19th New York Times, Frank Bruni observed that Trump is using an “appall-and-anesthetize political strategy.”  It’s easy to see this intellectually; every day we are beset by a new Trump outrage: lies, racism, blatant conflict-of-interest, or evidence of unsavory ties to Russian oligarchs.  In addition, for many Americans, Trump’s behavior provokes a searing visceral response; he is re-stimulating. Trump opens old wounds,  reminding us of an ancient oppressor: someone we encountered who was a bully or an abuser.

The cumulative impact of this — repeated re-stimulation — can be deadening. Robert Reich (http://www.alternet.org/activism/watch-robert-reich-reveals-4-dangerous-syndromes-coping-trump?) warns us to avoid four dysfunctional responses: 1. Coming to regard Trump as “normal” — a version of Stockholm Syndrome. 2. “outrage numbness.”  3. Cynicism.  4. Helplessness.

Nonetheless, unless a miracle happens, we’re stuck with Trump for a while.  Our first chance to neuter his “appall-and-anesthetize” strategy comes on midterm election day, November 6, 2018 —  620 days from now. Meanwhile, here’s some practical suggestion for warding off Trump Stress Disorder.

1. Take it one day at a time.  We’re running a marathon not a sprint.  Focus on the present moment.  Each day do something positive for yourself; buy yourself flowers or throw a pot or play your favorite Stevie Wonder CD…  Follow this with one act of resistance (however small).

2. Protect yourself.  If you realize that you are re-stimulated, turn off the news.  Do what you need to to become centered.  Step outside and connect with the earth.  Breathe.

3. Take care of yourself, in general.  Plan for “the marathon.”  Eat a healthy diet.  Get regular exercise.  Make sure you get enough sleep.

4. Take a day off from Trump.  Turn off the news.  Do whatever it takes to avoid “he who shall not be named.”  Go for a walk in nature.  Call your best friend.

After 24 hours, if you are still having trouble sleeping, take another day off from “Voldemort.”  Or three…  (This is not avoidance but rather providing space for healing.)

5. Connect with your family and friends.  These are difficult times; it’s okay to ask for help: “I am stressed out by what’s happening.  I need to hang out.”  If you can, play games with children or take your dog to the park.

Remember that your family and friends are likely to also be stressed out.  Ask them how they are.  Listen.  It may seem like an oxymoron but there is something empowering about deeply listening to a loved one’s suffering.  Cultivate compassion.

6. If you are aware of being re-stimulated, talk to someone about this.  That someone may be your relationship or best friend or a trusted adviser.  Go to a safe space and let it all out!  If you feel like it, stamp on the floor and yell at the top of your lungs, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more.”

7. Connect with an action group in your area.   The best way to combat Trump Stress Disorder is to take action.  You can find a local resistance group via the Indivisible web site (https://www.indivisibleguide.com/groups-nav); usually more than one.  This may be a large group committed to a broad range of actions or it may be a small study group. Chose the group that you feel most comfortable with.

What I’ve written so far is similar to a recent post by Daniel Hunter (http://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/build-resilient-culture-resistance/) “How to build a resilient culture of resistance in hard times.”  Hunter adds two thoughtful suggestions:

8. Read, listen to, or share a story about how others have resisted injustice.  “Millions have faced repression and injustices and we all can learn from them…. See the suggested resources at (FindingSteadyGround.com).”

9. Be aware of yourself as one who creates.  “The goal of injustice is to breed passivity — to make us believe that things happen to us, events happen to us, policies happen to us. To counteract this, we need to stay in touch with our sense of personal power.”

The bottom-line is to combat Trump Stress Disorder by first taking care of yourself and then taking action.  Robert Reich observed, “Fighting Trump will empower you.”