Wednesday, January 11, 2017

On Managing Anxiety in the Age of Tr*mp

It might surprise you a bit to learn that I've struggled with anxiety a fair amount in my life, and continue to do so. While I'd thought that I'd finally mastered the art of outwitting my brain after about five years of relative calm, the presidential election brought some of my old fears roaring back to life.

To be honest, I feel a little silly even typing that, but it's true. Tr*mp's election opened a Pandora's Box of things I had forced back into shadows reserved especially for extremely-low-probability, extinction-level threats to humanity, and I've struggled somewhat to regain my footing. (Yes, I've decided to treat the name of our incoming President *shudder* as the expletive it deserves to become.) I've been thinking about this quite a bit as the Obama era draws to a close. But I think I've finally started to sort out how I'll get through the next four years, and I want to talk about that a little bit today.
Let me rewind for a second. I'm sure it's a bit out of the ordinary for fears of nuclear armageddon to keep an elementary schooler awake till the wee hours of the morning, but I can't possibly be the only one. Growing up five miles from what Time Magazine informed me was the worst-run nuclear power plant in the country certainly didn't help.

I am very good at worrying about Bad Things. I worry when people travel, or when Jeff drops me off at work and drives home, or when someone in my family doesn't answer their phone, or when they fly out to visit me, and sometimes for no concrete reason at all. This is alright, though. I'm used to this.

But what I'd thought was over was the way these worries open the floodgates of a general sort of anxiety and paralysis. It's as if the remote, yet reasonable worries about omg the end of humanity!!!11 is a crowbar jammed in my mind that lets the generalized grumpkins and snarks out to play. I obsess over tiny social missteps and minor decisions of no practical importance to my life. My heart races and I can't sleep, and I lay there working very, very hard to consciously slow my breathing.

At the risk of turning this rant-y, I'm angry that a tiny fraction of a percent of the United States has sentenced me to four years (or more, ugh) of actively worrying about Horrible Things. (In no particular order: living through some sort of nuclear or environmental holocaust, anxiety caused by the resurgence of the KKK and Neo-Nazis (!!!) in present-day America, the end of reproductive freedom, and the end of Medicare and the Affordable Care Act, both of which will harm people in my immediate family.) I have no faith that Tr*mp has the capacity to make a good decision when there's even the tiniest opportunity to make a catastrophically and monumentally wrong choice. In short, I am afraid, and those big-picture fears let my brain play unpleasant anxiety tricks on me.

But! As angry as I might be, I still want to function: to enjoy my life and accomplish things. (I love accomplishing things! Even if they're silly tasks that I put on my to-do list expressly for the purpose of being able to cross them out delete them once I've finished.) So in addition to my existing coping mechanisms, I've decided to do a few things differently.

First, while I tend to see something that's terrible/frightening and obsessively read all about it, I just can't do that any longer. This is very rarely helpful and I'm not sure why I allow myself to do it anyway, so from now on, I will physically turn off my phone or put it in another room when I'm on the verge of falling down an online wormhole of despair.

Second, to assuage my guilt for looking away, I will identify some concrete actions I can take to advance some of the causes I care about, like reproductive freedom. Instead of reading about things that frighten me (North Korean missile development, for example), I'll research ways to get involved.

Finally, I will consciously refocus my energy toward affirming the positive in my life. Doing something from my list of things that make me happy is a great place to start, but I will also return to my old paper journal and start actually writing down the 'happy thoughts' I conjure up when I want to keep anxiety from taking over.

As a confirmed optimist (albeit an anxious one!), I'm hopeful that these will keep me from slipping into an anxious fugue. I'm taking it as a good sign from the universe that the 'golden showers' story broke *as* I was drafting this post. Hello schadenfreude, my old friend...

How do you manage anxiety and fear?

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  1. Thank you for writing this as it echoes my own feelings. Having slipped into a major depressive episode right after the election, I'm still struggling to find what makes sense. My anxiety has spiked and I have to deal with medication to avoid panic attacks which are my new normal. More than I care to admit, stems from the election and how scared I am for the future of the world.

    That being said, every day, I do like you. I try my hardest to remain optimistic and I look for joys in this world. I know it's hard to deal with life sometimes and this big journey we're all on- but at least we get to do so knowing there are others out there like us. Those of us who will stand as tall as we can even when our bodies try to hold us back.

    We'll get through it.

    1. It really is one of the scariest historical times I've lived through. All this news about the ACA makes me frightened, especially since I know Medicare is next on the chopping block and my parents are getting older. (PS: have your parents call their members of congress if they want Medicare to stay the same! It'll make more of a different because of the state they live in!)

      I hope the medication is helping. I should probably get off my butt and find a new therapist in Chicago.

      And I'll always stand with you ❤❤❤

  2. I really sympathized with this post. Im alittle nervous about Trump myself as I know we al are, i guess it's a matter of just praying for this nation. By the way your outfit in these pics are cute!your blog always warms my heart 🤗😘

    Nikki O. |

    1. ❤❤❤ I hope people realize how high the stakes are, and act accordingly. And thank you!! I am having a major tartan moment right now!

  3. Great post, old friend. Good plan of action. I never knew you dealt with such anxiety. You are not alone. Rock on!

    1. Thank you, Arik. Oddly, after a rough time in high school and college, my anxiety was much more under control during the years at LMU, even though my career and personal finances were much less steady. I've been dealing with the past 24 hours by watching lots of bunny rabbit GIFs. We've got this!!

  4. I've always admired your honesty about politics and social issues on this blog and that you've had it from the get. I tried to stay neutral in the beginning of my blogging days, but have come to regret that and have been trying to inject aspects of my thoughts slowly.

    Ye-ah, just...yeah. I've been just breathing slowly and deeply since the election. It's hard to believe we're just days away from the inauguration. I long ago accepted that roughly half of my lifetime someone I didn't largely agree with would be the president, but this is a little different. And I think it hurts and therefore we're mad at parts of the country because they voted for him because they fail to see how wildly different this is compared to other past candidates and presidents who swung right. For those of us on the left, it was a Dem v Rep war as much as it was a human rights battle as well as a sanity test. People liking him is one thing (crazy as it may is, but hey, people are crazy), but those who voted red because they always do or voted for him because couldn't get past the mythology of Clinton being an inadequate candidate, AND the people who voted 3rd party for above reasons and other (in my opinion) silly reasons are all hard to look in the face right now because so many of them are sane and couldn't see or believe that a reality TV star and someone with so many personality disorders was absolutely the worse of all political evils. That's actually the worst part to me; it's clear how prejudiced, self serving and yet apathetic so many Americans are now and it's in broad daylight. Trump sucks, but he is our mirror reflection whether we like it or not...

    Two things are keeping me sane during these times of uncharted waters. 1) As I'm sure you know, every president basically goes sheet white the morning after the inauguration when they get their first debriefing. This is largely why so many presidential promises go unkept; they didn't realize the intricacies of changing things until they heard the classified information. Now, Trump is a wild card, but I'm holding out hope that some of this humbles or scares him. He won't do a lot that us liberals like, but in regards to him genuinely ruining EVERYTHING...maybe this will apply. 2) Though the Republicans are in control of most branches of government, they are silently not united anymore. Obviously the Democratic party broke this year, but the Republicans have been splintering since basically W's second term. They united a bit to "make the black man look bad" in the house and senate voting during the Obama years, but now they don't have that common enemy. The good ole boy Republicans, the Jesus Republicans, and the Libertarian minded ones really don't have a ton in common at the end of the day. Now they can vote their own interests because they're not trying to block Obama and it's not going to get a lot done. Of course there will be some common ground and Trump has more power than the sum of the governments parts, but it's not for nothing that conservatives are freed up to vote more specifically for what they want as opposed to what they're generally against.

    I'm sorry you have a history with anxiety and I'm sorry we've been living in super triggering times. I guess we'll just have to wait and in see starting in the coming days...XO

  5. Thank you so much for writing such an honest post! I personally do not have anxiety disorder but I do suffer with anxiety and panic attacks at certain times and I agree that re-focusing the energy is a great idea + often (but not always) the anxiety has a purpose, to get us to react or do something that will ultimately better prepare us for something or fix something so that's often a way that can help me personally. In regards to Trump I totally feel you, I felt the same with the Brexit campaign over here in the UK, it's heartbreaking to see your country intentionally pick the bad path </3 xx

  6. This was a really open and honest post, Emily, you've laid everything bare and I completely respect you for it! I completely agree with Lauren's comment above, the next few years will be triggering times to say the least, but it really sounds like you have sensible and achievable ways of managing your anxiety and I for one know that you will be successful! Much love!

    Abbey 😎

  7. I'm so sorry that you go through this! Really sucks and especially when it's caused by something you can't control. I had hypnotherapy for my panic attacks and anxiety a couple of years ago now and that was something that really helped me. It taught me to break things into manageable chunks and to also remember that you are loved and you are important! I think you're doing a really good thing by trying to refocus your energy. I really hope it helps you cope and that you're okay.

    Becca xx

  8. It absolutely sucks that you have to go through this. As someone who does the whole overthinking Bad Things, I completely understand how you feel. It does just put you on edge and anxious doesn't even begin to describe how you end up feeling. I'm glad you're trying to working with it and manage your anxiety because I know how stressful it can get and that level of stress is not fun at all.

    Lovely post and I hope that you're able to manage your anxiety at a level you feel comfortable with. (Also, I appreciate how open and honest this post is.)

    mchi | mchiouji —

  9. The day after the election, my girl friends and I started a long email thread at work to vent, but eventually it morphed into a space where we could send each other news articles, links to events, etc. that would help us get mobile and do something about what's about to come in the next four years. So that being said, I think your tactics for coping with your anxiety are very good ones. It's great that you're taking steps to combat the immobilization that can happen after something as bad as this happens.

    I hope you keep us up to date on this. I really appreciate how open you are about Voldetrump. I know it can't have been easy to do that, but I'm glad you did. I'm with you!