I'm looking up at shouting "Save us!"
February 2, 2017 12:41 AM   Subscribe

How to deal with politics-related ARGH?

I saw this post but I'm wondering if there are options for continuing some media consumption but not succumbing to full blown panic.

Like pretty much everyone on here I've been tracking Trump's activities with growing horror/shame/panic/you take your pick. I am so proud to read about protests and people focused on activism, but it's hard not to feel powerless when it feels like the people who might actually be able to stop or slow the madness/do something are just lying down and taking whatever's dished out (I know politics is a complex game I definitely don't understand, but ugh!).

At first I was too distracted by outrage and feeling fired up to let my anxiety take over, but now I'm having frequent moments of racing thoughts and palpitations. I dread waking up to awful headlines, I'm tired of trying to have civil conversations with Trump supporters/apologists and feeling absolutely baffled and confused as to why they are defending or minimizing terrible things through technicalities. I don't seem to know how to find that sweet spot of being continuously outraged but not fully panicked that some people achieved. I know I need to take breaks from it all but it's really hard to look away. I don't know if it's a good idea to cut it off because these are really extraordinary times and I don't want to bury my head in the sand. I'm the most politically aware I've ever been in my life (mainly started paying attention during this election cycles, never before) and I want to stay informed, but I can't imagine living in this state of heightened anxiety for the next few months, not to mention the next few YEARS.

I've never dealt with this level of anxiety before, how do you manage it when there's good reason to be a bit freaked out? What are some good general, practical tips for dealing with anxiety? I don't have TV and almost all my news is consumed online/via social media. I want to keep up with it because I regret not paying attention all these years and it feels vitally aware in these times to be politically aware, but I want to manage those panicky moments better.
posted by sprezzy to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
I shouldn't do - but whatever.

How old are you? I'm 46. Background in govt and media. You are late to this party of anxiety. It's probably not your fault! You would need a sort of polymath-type of life experience involving too many variables including where you lived and careers pursued.

Calm down, if you can. See how fast this is all moving? These plans were in place for decades, long before you or I were old enough to make any difference. It takes large numbers. Are you aware now? Good.

Rule #1 is to stop yourself blaming others or yourself. Don't give in to diviseness - that's the trap. Others hate you for your religion, skin color, social standing, your politics? IGNORE THIS.

Alexander Dugin The Fundamentals of Geopolitics published in 1997 - ANYONE CAN BE USING THIS TACTIC.

"Russia should use its special forces within the borders of the United States to fuel instability and separatism, for instance, provoke "Afro-American racists". Russia should "introduce geopolitical disorder into internal American activity, encouraging all kinds of separatism and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all dissident movements – extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilizing internal political processes in the U.S. It would also make sense simultaneously to support isolationist tendencies in American politics."

America can not be defeated militarily. Everyone knows this. The vast majority of our tax dollars go to the military and we have thousands of nukes ready too destroy any nation several times over. The KGB officer associated with Donald Trump's dossier was mysteriously killed. What the fuck do you all think is happening? There is an eerie similarity between The Foundations of Geopolitics and current events."


Historian Heather Cox Richardson:

"Predictably, chaos has followed and tempers are hot.

My point today is this: unless you are the person setting it up, it is in no one’s interest to play the shock event game. It is designed explicitly to divide people who might otherwise come together so they cannot stand against something its authors think they won’t like. I don’t know what Bannon is up to– although I have some guesses– but because I know Bannon’s ideas well, I am positive that there is not a single person whom I consider a friend on either side of the aisle– and my friends range pretty widely– who will benefit from whatever it is. If the shock event strategy works, though, many of you will blame each other, rather than Bannon, for the fallout. And the country will have been tricked into accepting their real goal.richardson

But because shock events destabilize a society, they can also be used positively. We do not have to respond along old fault lines. We could just as easily reorganize into a different pattern that threatens the people who sparked the event. A successful shock event depends on speed and chaos because it requires knee-jerk reactions so that people divide along established lines. This, for example, is how Confederate leaders railroaded the initial southern states out of the Union. If people realize they are being played, though, they can reach across old lines and reorganize to challenge the leaders who are pulling the strings. This was Lincoln’s strategy when he joined together Whigs, Democrats, Free-Soilers, anti-Nebraska voters, and nativists into the new Republican Party to stand against the Slave Power. Five years before, such a coalition would have been unimaginable. Members of those groups agreed on very little other than that they wanted all Americans to have equal economic opportunity. Once they began to work together to promote a fair economic system, though, they found much common ground. They ended up rededicating the nation to a “government of the people, by the people, and for the People."
posted by jbenben at 1:31 AM on February 2, 2017 [16 favorites]

Building upon my previous answer - walks in nature, making a plan, meditation, and socializing/community - in that order.

Avoid any media featuring dystopian environments. Look toward solutions. Deep breaths. Don't give in.
posted by jbenben at 1:37 AM on February 2, 2017 [5 favorites]

You say you are "so proud to read about protests and people focused on activism" but have you gone to any protests or done any activism since the election? If not, do some of that, if you've done a little, do more.

I know it might seem like that will just add to the stress, but in my experience, it helps a lot, because it makes you feel less powerless. And I hear you about wondering what good it can do in this moment, but here's the thing - we're in a crazy moment right now, and it's really hard to know how things will ripple out. Like, maybe protests on a particular issue won't have the policy outcome the protesters want, but the fact that the protests happened is part of changing the politics around an issue.

You can also get involved in a more long-term way in your community. Join a local Indivisible or SURJ group, or volunteer for an organization that serves immigrant/refugee communities. You'll make a small but noticeable difference, and you may meet likeminded people, which helps.

People often talk about activism as an obligation, but in times like this, I think it can be a form of self-care.

Oh and as for trying to talk to Trump supporters about politics - I would let yourself off the hook for that. If it's a friend or family member and they seem open, great. Otherwise I think it's completely reasonable to have that boundary.
posted by lunasol at 3:49 AM on February 2, 2017 [11 favorites]

I read a nice blog post recently called How to Avoid Being Psychologically Destroyed by your Newsfeed, and I liked it a lot. I've found that I have to consciously decide to stop checking Twitter every 30 minutes.

For me, most of the bad feelings and anxiety come from Twitter. You probably have your own source. Twitter is particularly bad for me--it's reactionary, mostly unverified, and constantly streaming into your face. So I take breaks. I allow myself to read the legit news, mostly Google News, and by then the messages are verified and smoothed over a bit, and I can take them a little bit more objectively.

Remind yourself that no matter how often you're checking the news, the events will still play out as they will play out--you don't need to be notified immediately when the next Bad Trump Thing happens. It won't change anything. What will change things is action: go to protests, go to local organizing groups, call your representatives.

One thing I have tried to do in social media is try to have rational discussions with those people who have a different perspective. It's distressingly difficult, but I've found a few folks on Twitter and Facebook who will entertain me and have a civil discussion. Find those people and see if you can start ongoing dialogues with them. It's helpful to me because I can start to maybe see things from a different perspective, and everything doesn't seem quite so terrible, and if you can, say, convince a conservative Trump supporter that maybe Trump's conflicts of interest should be investigated, you are doing some good. But don't enter pissing contests or give way to ad hominem attacks. It's so easy and satisfying, but it doesn't do anyone any good, and just makes you feel bad.

Hang in there.
posted by tybstar at 5:22 AM on February 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

I feel you; my 2 adult daughters have been having panic attacks and are generally more teary and anxious than ever in their lives. It really sucks. I told them a few things, choose what, if anything, resonates with you.

1. Remember that when you're feeling queasy and anxious and panicky, Trump doesn't know it. Your sickness and shakiness has literally zero effect on him as he blithely does his business. So ask yourself, "Is this feeling actually accomplishing anything or is it serving to decrease my own personal wellness?" and tell yourself that you refuse to give him this power over you. Make it a point of honor: he DOESN'T get to do this to you.

2. Reframe your OMFG did he really just say/do/sign that shock into, "I have a chance to be a force for good, and I accept that challenge," and find out how to contact your senators/congresspeople, etc.

3. If you know that reading updates about whatever fresh hell he's created is going to make you ARGH, step away from FaceBook and the news. Just step away from it.

4. Self-care really matters when we're hit with an onslaught of crap. Find what works for you -- walking in nature, playing with animals, knitting, 30 Rock repeats, yoga, running.

5. Try to work in meditation because learning to control your breathing is damned helpful when you start to get panicky feelings. A favorite that I teach my kids and my students is to carry a deck of playing cards and slowly turn over the cards, naming each card and suit and color. It's impossible for the emotional brain to run unchecked when you're forcing your rational brain into counting and naming things. Do that as many times as needed.

6. Lastly, remember that there are literally MILLIONS of people worldwide who are also fighting Trump's policies and decisions and it's okay to step back and let them be the helpers. You will join in if and when you feel ready. But you can't be a helper unless you're feeling safe and positive and ready. So take care of yourself first. Whatever people say about airplanes and put the oxygen on yourself first before helping others is trite but really true. You cannot be a force for good until you feel good yourself. Give yourself time and practice to get to a better place.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:42 AM on February 2, 2017 [27 favorites]

I'm someone who is falling into panic. I'm driving my husband crazy every night. But I'm learning to temper it.

Small acts can have the biggest effects, so if you're looking to do good, start small. This is how I'm tempering my panic, though I haven't done all of these things, these are things that are on my radar to do that I think would be good to do as a counter measure to what we're seeing right now.

Call your local Mosque and ask if there is a family that needs anything that you can provide, or ask if there is anything your local Muslim community needs from allies that you can provide. You can do this with your local VA as well as your closest refugee programs. All of these groups are under attack right now.

If you have children in your lives, talk to them openly but age appropriately if they ask questions. Tell them the most important thing to be is kind and then help them be kind.

Donate a small, recurring amount you can afford to the ACLU. They are doing great work. They will need to do a lot more work in the days to come. Small donations will help sustain them through the long fight.

Talk about your concerns and fears with people who care about you, but live your life. Be aware and concerned, but don't let it paralyze you or consume you. It's okay to have fun still. You'll need to give your brain and body appropriate respite so you can get back to the fights that matter to you later on.
posted by zizzle at 6:33 AM on February 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

I am writing you this in part as a way of gathering and organizing my own thoughts about it, because boy oh boy have I been having this problem, too. Trump's presidency has really reminded me of some of the most difficult parts of my own life. I don't think I'm the only one -- I've been talking to a lot of people who say, "He reminds me of my abusive ex / abusive parent / years when I was bullied / other traumatic experience etc." These memories can have all kinds of strong feelings that come with them -- feelings of anxiety, isolation, helplessness, despair, and so on. If you are in that situation -- if the current political situation is making you flash back to bad memories -- then that is worth dealing with in its own right.

For me, if I let current events dredge up all these feelings and I don't recognize that it's happening, I get swamped. I've been having some success in taking time to recognize what's happening -- "Oh, this news story is reminding me of XYZ part of my past," "Oh, I remember feeling just this same way when I was a teenager," and so on. Once I recognize it, I can start to pull apart the current events from the past events. I can also see that I have many more choices now than I did in the past. Am I feeling anxious? Well, I can take actions that may contribute to a positive outcome. Am I feeling isolated? Well, I can reach out to my friends and loved ones. Am I feeling helpless? Well, I can recognize the limits of my control and abilities while still taking whatever positive actions I can. And I can also do my best to be kind and gentle with myself and not see the fact that I'm hurting as some kind of moral failure.

When I am able to do all those things, it clears the way for new perspectives and helps me get my feet under me again. I can look at the news and, instead of freaking out about all the possible bad things that might happen, I can see all the positive & principled actions and the effect they are having. I can look at some of the scare-mongering click-bait and dismiss it for what it is. I can get some perspective and see that the world has always had injustice, and that people of good conscience have always had to stand up for what they believe is right. Not to mention: the world has always also had beauty and goodness in it, and that didn't go away when Trump was inaugurated.

Here's another tactic I've been using, with some success. I've been asking myself the following:
- What am I afraid is going to happen?
- What can I do about each of those things at this moment, keeping in mind the limitations of time/space and my own finite body and mind?

For each fear, there might be a different answer. For instance:
- I can't really do anything about this fear right now -- it's too big/distant/nebulous. I'm going to let go of it for the moment -- if there's ever anything I can do about it, then I will know when the time comes.
- I can address this fear by living my own life in my day-to-day by my values, or by taking better care of & being kinder to myself and my loved ones and my community.
- I can address this fear by doing some kind of small action that contributes to a larger group effort (like calling representatives or donating money or joining a protest). I'm not in the hot seat for this issue, but I can be one of the drops that makes up the ocean.
- I can address this fear by using some position or expertise or power that I have to do something concrete. (I think if this is true, you will know it -- those ACLU lawyers who headed to the airports were not just random bystanders tortured by anxiety; they'd been preparing for years to address issues like this).

Chances are good that "obsessively shoveling more news into your brain" is not going to be the answer to many (or any) of your fears. But -- do the exercise yourself and find out!

Here's another resource I've found helpful: "A Nervous Wreck's Disabled Guide to Stepping Up".

I leave you with a quote from Chris Hedges that I've been thinking about since I read it:
"To recover our mental balance we must respond to Trump the way victims of trauma respond to abuse. We must build communities where we can find understanding and solidarity. We must allow ourselves to mourn. We must name the psychosis that afflicts us. We must carry out acts of civil disobedience and steadfast defiance to re-empower others and ourselves. We must fend off the madness and engage in dialogues based on truth, literacy, empathy and reality. We must invest more time in activities such as finding solace in nature, or focusing on music, theater, literature, art and even worship—activities that hold the capacity for renewal and transcendence. This is the only way we will remain psychologically whole. Building an outer shell or attempting to hide will exacerbate our psychological distress and depression. We may not win, but we will have, if we create small, like-minded cells of defiance, the capacity not to go insane."
posted by ourobouros at 6:37 AM on February 2, 2017 [9 favorites]

Excellent suggestions above! I also am making sure to balance the political things I read with fluffy, escapist entertainment and news. For example, while I might have bypassed stories about certain celebrities in the past, I'm reading them all now. A feel good piece about somebody doing something remarkable/good/just plain nice or a post full of cute animal pictures is a welcome respite. I know you don't have a TV, but, if you consume some television via streaming services at all, look for something you can disappear into for a bit. This could work for podcasts or books, too, but those aren't working as well for me these days. Basically, find something escapist or fun that can balance out your media diet so you stay informed but functional. Your brain needs a break once in a while and the best way to do that is to engage it in something not related to politics or special events. Hope this helps!
posted by katemcd at 6:40 AM on February 2, 2017

Two weeks ago, I made a political To Do list because I feel as JBen does--shock doctrine is underway. If we stare at the trainwreck in panic, it's easier for the new regime to pick our pockets and abrogate our rights. So each day I do one political thing. Today I am making social plans with a Trump supporter I've been avoiding for the last month just to have a good time and stay connected.
posted by Elsie at 7:01 AM on February 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

Oh, another thing that helps me is to read history. Even if it's just a page or two on Wikipedia about a historical event or era. It helps put things into perspective for me: there have always been terrible men (almost always men, at least) who find ways to be in charge, and we always find ways to remove them eventually. I don't want to minimize the challenges we are facing today, but what it tells me is that we will never be able to stop fighting: there will always be horrible people who find their way into power. Our job is to keep working for good, and I think that history has a lot of good lessons for us.
posted by tybstar at 7:17 AM on February 2, 2017 [5 favorites]

I've been watching "The West Wing" and pretending it's real.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:20 AM on February 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

I would like to recommend two things by the writer Elizabeth Gilbert which have really helped me the last few weeks with exactly the same anxiety you have.

Firstly, her Facebook page, on which she posts political things BUT with the important proviso that they always contain a suggestion of action that can be taken. A lot of anxiety is about feeling powerless, but you're not powerless. You have an internet connection, you can write, you have a voice, you have integrity and you care. THESE ARE SUPERPOWERS! Use them.

The other thing is for when you need to disengage, and it is her podcast, 'Magic Lessons', which is about helping people overcome creative blocks. Whether you are a creative person or not, I've found the podcast extremely hopeful, positive, and life-affirming. Creativity is particularly important in times like this (how to protest in the most effective ways, what to write on your placard, who to co-opt into the resistance), so this is one way that you can exercise your resistant mind without having to stare directly at The Beast.

And remember that relaxing and taking your mind off what is happening is not something to feel guilty about - in fact, it is absolutely essential. This struggle might be long and painful, and it will need people with emotional energy and and stamina. When you rest up and do something else, you are refuelling. Enjoy your time away from the battle!

Finally, remember that there is still hope. Trump will have a last day in office; America will have its first female president one day, and another black president one day, and things will begin to get better. And you know what's really exciting? PEOPLE LIKE YOU WILL MAKE THAT HAPPEN! This is a hard time, but hard times help us grow more than the good times. Read life-affirming books (Desmond Tutu's 'No Future Without Forgiveness' and Nelson Mandela's 'Long Walk to Freedom' are perennial favourites of mine). You're not alone in feeling like this, but when the cloud lifts it will be time to get moving, get creative and start being a thorn in his side. That's going to feel amazing for you, and will make such a huge difference to your community and your country! Good luck!
posted by matthew.alexander at 8:21 AM on February 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

I compartmentalize like a mofo. Seriously. Like Elsie I made a to do list of things I wanted to achieve, however I set a time & place to work on that list in my planner. Every Thursday I sit down & spend an hour or so working on those things. Letter writing, researching (today it's going to be Shock Doctrine as that was a whole new idea for me & a very interesting one I want to know more on & faxing some representatives). I keep a list by my computer and as stuff comes up during the week I add to to the list, then I sit down every Thursday & work my list.

Knowing that yes these crazy things are freaking me out but I have a time & place I am going to sit & work on combating those things has been very empowering for me & how my brain works.

I have also found curating my media intake has been helpful too. Except when I am researching during my set times I avoid anything but 1 news source I picked one that doesn't seem to be trying to sensationalize the news as much as some, as that works for me. I have cut facebook right back and blocked all but a few groups I belong to, I don't twitter anymore, I filter my reddits.

I'm also old enough to have lived through a shit tonne of political turmoil around the world. Strangely it helps, as only time will cure that for you I'd really like to nth tybstars point read histories. None of this is new, it's just new that it's happening here & now.

What's that saying that gets trotted out during disasters. "look for the helpers" that applies here. Don't focus on the shit that is happening, focus on those fighting the shit that is happening, then take a deep breath & do what you can to help those people. See how awesomely the ACLU & Planned Parenthood is fighting, man those guys are fucking great. Check out all the great websites online people have made to make activism easier for everyone. Want to ring your representative & don't know where to start there are sites that will walk you through it step by step with potential scripts for you to use if you are shy. Someone sat down & went I can code that's how I'll help, I'll help others that are lost not be so lost.

People way smarter than me are writing great essays explaining complicated concepts so I can understand exactly what is happening, making sure even idiots like me stay informed & aren't lost in the shuffle, isn't that great. Metafilter is full of people fighting & learning fast & working hard & sharing knowledge & trying their damndest to make sure this government doesn't become the new normal. That's awesome. People like you are getting angry & scared about the right things, while it sucks that you are having anxiety, while people like you exist the world still has hope and that's fucking amazing. All the young people who were lucky enough to have lived in an area of Obama, Well they got "woke" super damn fast and are mad as hell about and are working their asses off I can't be anything but in awe of their energy & feel proud of every single one of them and my bitter old heart see's something good in them every damn day. Look for the helpers then be a helper in any way you can big or small, do something.
posted by wwax at 8:22 AM on February 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

It was counterintuitive and may not work for everyone, but I found that regularly consuming a mainstream established reputable newsource (for me it's NPR) actually helps, because it gives me the context for the random OMG OUTRAGE stories I see on Facebook. Those somehow feel less like a random barrage of awful, and more like steps in a battle I understand (kinda).

I know that doesn't work for everyone, but it might be worth trying. I think especially if you're new to politics, it's hard to understand why various things are happening and what they mean (eg, all the votes on the ACA), and having daily context can help.
posted by lazuli at 9:20 AM on February 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine just sent me this article and it definitely resonated with me: How to #StayOutraged Without Losing Your Mind
posted by capricorn at 11:38 AM on February 2, 2017

For me, a few things have helped:

1. Counterintuitively, admitting that it really is as bad as it looks. The guy is a gas lighting, narcissistic, racist, misogynistic bully who has surrounded himself with some truly evil people and they are doing exactly what they said they would. The thing about bullies is they thrive on power, and on being the centre of attention. This man just feeds on the idea of everyone watching him in horror, praying that he will throw them a bone rather than kick them in the head. Now that I have made up my mind about what's happening he and his minions no longer have the power to shock or disappoint me. I know who he is and I know no good is going to come from him.

2. Focussing on and choosing to amplify not the individual outrages, but the concrete, positive things that are being done to combat them. The bad behaviour is to be expected, but the real surprise and delight is in the creative ways people are fighting back, and doing, or continuing to do, other great things.

3. Not engaging with his supporters/defenders. My mantra is "I'm thankful I don't have to look the next generation in the eye and tell them this is okay."

4. Surrounding myself with positive people who care about me, who respect others, and who are being constructive, about this situation and life in general. I don't keep score but I do seek reciprocity and I'm letting go of a few relationships where that doesn't happen. Those people are just going to have to get their needs met at someone else's expense.

5. Taking care of myself and my emotional and physical health. The stronger and healthier we are, the better we will be able to cope with whatever happens. For me that means exercise, healthy eating, creative pursuits, and spending time in nature with my dog.

This article about gaslighting also made sense to me. You feel crazy because the environment is being manipulated to make you feel that way. Once you recognize the tactic, it loses power.
posted by rpfields at 7:04 PM on February 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: You guys are all so wonderful! I appreciate all the advice! I just noticed the typo in my title!

I definitely asked this question in the midst of a stressful late night craze, and reading these comments now has me feeling much more calm and centered. I didn't dip my feet too much into new today--just enough to stay a bit informed--and I felt much more able to enjoy the daily things I usually enjoy. Gonna be taking all these suggestions to heart going forward!

@jbenben -- I'm 30! Shamefully late to the political awareness game...but no longer!!

@lunasol -- I have! The women's march here in LA was fantastic, I was out of town for the LAX protest, but tax and lgbtq and science march are coming up! Also calling and setting up recurring donations...would love to volunteer more consistently so I'm looking into groups. All your suggestions are super appreciated :)

@JimN2TAW -- HA! I actually started up watching West Wing again and it actually made me slightly depressed because of how principled and competent the fictional staff are in contrast to our administration xD

Thank you all so much for your words of wisdom and personal experiences...it's reassuring to know that I'm not alone in panicking (it can feel that way when you live by yourself), even though I wish we weren't in these circumstances. But it's even more reassuring to know that we're all out there for each other.
posted by sprezzy at 7:52 PM on February 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

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