Taming Your Trump Anxiety

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Donald Trump IMAGE: Gage Skidmore

"I would never vote for Trump because I'm an immigrant and I don't want to be deported!"

I recently overheard this comment seemingly fueled by anxiety and sheer panic. I couldn't help but to react - maybe it was the therapist in me wanting to try to alleviate her stress and anxiety, but also maybe because I am feeling tired of all the irrational chatter about Donald Trump. When I heard it, I spoke up and asked the woman how she came to the United States. She explained that it was through legal means. I then reminded her that my understanding was that Trump wanted to deport illegal immigrants, not legal. It seemed to calm her state of panic and anxiety, at least momentarily. One thing is certain though, as long as Trump is a contender, anxieties will run high.

Since Super Tuesday, I've had a growing number of patients talk to me about their anxiety and unease over Trump. Close to 25% of my patients express their concerns about him. For one of four patients, Trump anxiety trumps the depression and anxiety that people usually want to discuss. To give you some more perspective, that means these people are more worried about Trump being elected than they are about their careers, relationships, financial woes and even their sexual performance - all the usual stuff patients speak to me about. Not since George W. Bush have I seen this level of anxiety over a candidate or political figure. It seems the more delegates that Trump picks up in the primaries, the more anxiety I see and the greater the intensity of fears.

Much of the anxiety is utter disbelief that he can be doing so well. People wonder how someone they perceive as a bully can be leading in the polls. After all, growing up we're not taught to be mean and you'll be popular - we're taught quite the opposite. The fact that he is doing well throws people off their normal course of thinking and causes anxiety. They wonder, "How can someone be so divisive and yet so popular"?

In my view it is simple: Trump has tapped into a hungry populous and his message resonates. If you think of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, at the very base level is security, including personal, financial, health and well-being. Trump's message has targeted all of them in a way the other candidates haven't. He's fused fear with an inspirational message "Let's make America great again" - the very structure of the slogan suggest that America isn't great (fear) and that we must aim for greatness (inspirational). Love him or hate him, the message resonates with the electorate and they have found their cheerleader and in many cases he's given a voice to the voiceless.

I also see classic anxiety and panic. As is the case with other fears, peoples' minds pull up worst case scenarios. "He'll attack Russia", "He'll deport people unlawfully", "I'm moving to Canada". They feel powerless at the mere thought of a President Trump. Their uncertainty over what exactly would happen in a Trump administration leads to more anxiety as their mind fills in the blanks, usually with unsubstantiated information. Whether it's a fear of public speaking or fear of flying or now a fear of a President Trump, I instruct people to separate fact from fiction and to focus on things that are within their control, not beyond it. For example, thoughts such as "I'll have a heart attack" or "people will think I'm stupid" or "I'll be deported" would fall into the fiction category.

Similarly, one should be reminded that in the United States, there's a system of checks and balances and it is actually quite difficult to get new policy written into law. Think about just how realistic it is that Trump would, or even could, implement radical changes to existing policy. People should realize it simply isn't that easy to enact policy and our two-party system does a wonderful job of providing a forum to debate proposed policy before it ever can possibly go into law.

Sometimes anxiety is really about feeling like you have no control. This is certainly the case with flying and public speaking anxieties. In the case of Trump, it's also true. People feel they'll have no control should Trump be elected. To deal with this, think about what you actually can control. For example, your own life, how you conduct yourself, and which news sources you choose to pay attention to. There's no doubt sensationalism sells and there's an overabundance of it now related to this election. That said, choose a trusted news source and stick with it. No need to inundate yourself with election news. Similarly, choose who you talk to and about what. If you have a friend who loves Trump and you don't, and all they talk about is Trump, well, spend less time with that person or just explain that you appreciate their passion for the candidate but you hold a different view and don't want to let politics get between the two of you so best to leave it behind.

Finally, before hitting the panic button and researching ways to move to Canada, take a deep breath, relax, and try to appreciate the fact that you actually have the freedom to vote, express your views, and exercise the option to rally for a candidate of your choosing. Enjoy this process. Get involved with the candidate you support and do your part to get him or her elected. Complaining about a candidate might feel good and provide a sense of camaraderie, however, it will also reinforce negativity and ultimately make you feel bad about the election. So instead, embrace the true privilege and honor of voting rights in the midst of the Trump hoopla and think clearly and rationally as you move forward.

For more tips on how to deal with stress, anxiety and fear check out my book Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.