How to Tame the Anxiety of the Times (Or Regards to You for Surviving in Any Way You Have this President's Day)
Presidents’ Day is usually a day when you might be grateful for a long weekend, an extra day off to go skiing, or to get everything done that usually eludes you during the week; or a time to find a good sale. Ordinarily, you may or may not spend much time thinking about past presidents or the current one; or about the democracy that we live in that affords us so many freedoms, even with its imperfections.
But I imagine (and have even heard that it is so) that this Presidents’ Day is different for you – more deep thought about the state of our country; more agitation or concern about the current president; more disbelief (or horror) that we are actually living this way; more fear and anxiety about what is yet to come. I imagine you are taking this Presidents’ Day holiday much more seriously than in years past.
Everyone I talk to, whether in my office or out in the world, at a bare minimum, mentions the state of affairs in our political system – and everyone talks about it with distress or agitation. I have clients who are undocumented, who are afraid to go out and come to therapy. I have couples who can’t understand why they’re more irritable with one another, when just before, they felt like they were making improvements. I have parents raising their children – some alone – and noticing more distress, tantrums, anxiety and overwhelm in their kids; and who feel their own lack of capacity to deal with one more emotional breakdown in their households. At the same time these parents are struggling with how to explain what’s going on to their children. How to help them understand the terribleness of the times and not become over-frightened (or over-aggressive) themselves?
I have lots of people who are reading and watching everything they possibly can in order to understand and be in the know of what’s going on, who wake up each morning wondering ‘what did he do now?’ They have a hyper-vigilance about the news, but also feel overloaded and overwhelmed with the constant negativity, and know that they need a break from it, but are afraid to turn away. I have spoken with lots of people who barely can get a couple of words out about the situation in our country and who quickly escalate and ratchet up in the tone of voice and distress that they express. They have the feeling they can’t control their own emotional spiral.
I have some people who enter my office and simply cry at the sadness and fear that they feel. I have elderly family members who are suffering such heart-ache to be bearing witness to everything going on, and remembering dark and terrible times past. I know others who are typically relatively calm and cool as they face life’s challenges, but who feel their own baseline of tolerance is being more agitated and harder to soothe. They are more knocked over the edge by regular frustrations.
Of course, there are also all those folks who were already over-stressed; already overwhelmed; already troubled and vulnerable in some way, already struggling profoundly, who are finding it so much harder to carry on and who feel even more seriously debilitated themselves.
Perhaps you’ve noticed some added strain in your life, as a result of this uncertain socio-political time we are living in. Maybe you feel an ongoing tension, or headaches; rapid or shallow breathing, weepiness or easily triggered tears. Or maybe you’re having difficulty sleeping, or curbing unhealthy self-care practices or indulgences as you try to make yourself feel better. Maybe you’ve noticed mindless over-eating, self-medicating, a sense of malaise, an addictive feeling of needing to read as much news as possible, a shutting down or withdrawing. Or maybe a feeling of your mind always running, ongoing agitation, whirring worriedness, a loss of hope or motivation, a sick feeling in your gut, heartache, fearfulness, reactivity, underlying anxiety or depression. These feelings are real and seem to be pretty wide spread, yet many people would rather overlook or avoid them. Important to acknowledge and allow them to be, and have consideration for their underlying presence.
To survive these troubling times more gently, there are a few things you can do:
- First, acknowledge that these are hard times.
- Know that you are not alone – many others are feeling just the way you are.
- Have the understanding that underneath some of your loved one’s bad behavior, there is probably some pain they are feeling that they haven’t been able to articulate. Everyone’s baseline is disrupted right now.
- Talk with your therapist; your friends, people on the street. Share your concerns. Listen and be listened to.
- recognize and appreciate all that you have done so far to simply manage and get to this point – all the coping you have already employed.
- Reflect on what has been most helpful to you (i.e. reaching out to friends, taking days off from the news, positive actions, listening a little longer to your children.
- Allow yourself to miss and mourn the Obamas (if you do) and remember the good.
- Try to respond rather than react.
- Take breaks from the negativity.
- Laugh – watch or listen to the comedy presented about the current administration (SNL, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, etc.). Laughter can be quite cathartic. So can tears.
- Try a social media fast for a day or two (or even a couple of hours!) – Or screen-free Saturdays. Be mindful every time you want to reach for your device, and see if you can let that urge pass.
- Remember the negativity of always feeling we have to stay connected leads to a low-grade stress/tension/anxiety that we always carry with us. This takes a toll on our bodies, minds, hearts, relationships.
- Toggle between getting informed; doing what you can do to impact change; and coming back to your center and re-grounding. Repeat again and again.
- Walk, exercise, get outdoors. Experience nature.
- Experience and savor the good. There is still so much of it out there.
People are feeling the psychological, emotional and physical effects of living with uncertainty, confusion, hateful aggression surrounding them. For many, this is like living with an unreliable or dangerous parent, as a child, and feeling all of the apprehension and stress that goes with that. This kind of stress lodges deeply within one’s body. If you had times when you were growing up of being dismissed, hurt, threatened, not included, not listened to, raged at, treated unfairly, frightened, disregarded, unprotected, abused or traumatized – be especially kind with yourself and know you are vulnerable to being easily triggered. Have Compassion for yourself and for others in your life.
Take a few moments each day to do some long slow deep in breaths and even longer slower deeper breaths out. Your breath is a valuable anchor that is always available to you, especially in stormy waters.
May you find, in this Presidents’ Day in particular, some peace and a sense of safety in your heart.
For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.
Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
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