From Trumps tweets to EU uncertainty and the threat of nuclear war, the stress-inducing headlines keep coming. Therapists share tips on how to cope
In the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum and the US presidential election, it became common, on the losing side, to compare the experience to a death in the family. First came the punch to the gut, the thunderbolt of disbelief. Then came the days when you would find yourself going about your business as if nothing untoward had happened, only to recall, each time with a fresh wave of nausea, that it had.
In one major respect, however, this analogy has turned out to be wrong. By this point, following a normal bereavement, you might expect the process of recovery to be underway. The wound may never heal, but things reorder themselves around the injury and life moves on. To put it mildly, this is not how things seem to be unfolding on the leafy Greenwich Village block in New York where Paul Saks keeps his consulting room.
The traumas come so quickly every day brings something else that now theres a certain despair and numbness that has set in, says Saks, a psychotherapist and psychiatrist whose patients are overwhelmingly liberal New Yorkers. One recent patient, a grandson of Holocaust survivors, was distressed by Donald Trumps cosiness with neo-Nazis; a current client, who is gay, jokes about waiting for the moment they come and round gay people up and take them off to the camp. But the way the patient says it, its not quite a joke. Those without any specific, identifiable reason for worry or anger are hardly immune, though. In a way that strikes many therapists and counsellors as new, politics is now the panicky drumbeat behind clients concerns.
The level of anxiety in ordinary people is extraordinary, says Emmy van Deurzen, a London-based therapist and philosopher, and a passionate remainer. I see it in all my patients. We dont feel the same sense, as we once did, that we can take things for granted, that everything is going to be fine. (Anxiety, of course, need not always refer to a diagnosed disorder; nebulous feelings of anxiety are far more widespread than that.) Many of those who consult her are EU nationals. Now, with some distance on the referendum itself, I see a lot more of them who are angry, because its all been going on for such a long time. Before, people thought: Well hang in there and governments will sort things out. Now, its clear governments arent doing that, so people stop feeling the sense that things will right themselves.
A bereavement, for all its awfulness, is a one-off event. But the erratic behaviour in the White House like the protracted negotiations with the EU provides fresh cause for worry or fear every day. The impact of this is becoming clear: earlier this year, a survey conducted annually by the American Psychological Association found that 57% of respondents were stressed by the political climate; overall, the survey found the first significant uptick in national anxiety levels in the 10 years the organisation had been measuring them. In the UK, the Office for National Statistics has recorded a rise in self-reported anxiety, while other research has found significant increases in worry about the future, as well as bemusement, anger and resentment about Brexit in a large majority of young people. The uncertainty is felt on both sides of the political divide: you neednt have voted remain to feel concerned about the mixed messages and wasted money, or the prospect of many years of increasingly fractious negotiations.
What makes all this headline-induced distress especially troublesome is the way that, however unwittingly, we end up conspiring in maintaining and spreading it. When you find yourself otherwise powerless in the face of great political forces your views unrepresented by the governments supposedly safeguarding your interests worry can feel like doing something useful. By extension, persuading other people to feel worried feels like getting them involved productively as well.
Anxiety is conductive, the designer and anti-Trump campaigner Mike Monteiro has written. It wants to travel from one person to another person. And, once it sees itself in that person, it feels justified in being in that first person. Ever since Trumps inauguration, many commentators have stressed the importance of refusing to normalise his dishonesty, bigotry and disdain for the democratic process. Well-intended as this is, in practice it has usually meant normalising the state of being constantly agitated about them instead.
Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us