Go Ahead and Release Your Trump-Era Anxiety

A therapist’s advice for getting back to a calmer default state

Photo: China News Service/Contributor/Getty Images

After a January defined by a constant barrage of major news events, from insurrection to inauguration — which came after a year of chaos, or wait, four years of chaos — this past month has felt, well… quiet. Uncomfortably quiet. Like we’ve spent so long on edge that we’ve forgotten how to be any other way. My therapy clients seem to be finding that all the anxiety they’ve stored up all the past four years is still with them, stubbornly hanging on like the worst type of relic.

So what do you with all that anxiety when your brain and body are stuck in prepare-for-the-worst mode?

Identify your obsession triggers

When we’re anxious, we tend to over-focus on whatever it is that feels threatening. It’s a self-protective measure: If you learn all you can about what’s scaring you, your anxious brain insists, you’ll never be caught off-guard.

This is a great tactic for escaping some types of danger, but for the past four years, most days have defied predictability. Many of us spent hours trying to make sense of the news, only to end up feeling just as anxious and unprepared as when we started.

If you’re finding that over-focusing on the news is now a tricky habit to break, this is a great time to reevaluate how you consume news. When are you at your most thoughtful and responsive, and when are you likely to be the most reactive? When are you actively learning something, and when are you just doom-scrolling and hand-wringing? If problems always seem overwhelming at night, for example, then maybe you budget time for reading the newspaper or checking social media earlier in the day.

Adjust your mental timeline

It’s also useful to think about how you respond to the news. One way to feel less anxious about the world is to stay focused on your own responsibilities (and not everyone else’s). Are there issues that made you especially anxious in the last four years, like immigration or climate change? Ask yourself what it could look like to stay thoughtfully engaged with these problems over the long haul, instead of just panicking about them whenever they pop up on your feed. People who stay plugged into hard problems are more likely to stay calm on discouraging days.

Of course, we still have plenty to be anxious about. But if we’re not careful, we’ll continue that pattern of focusing on the uncertainties of the future over the challenges of the present. We tend to be the most anxious when we ask ourselves, “What if?” and not, “What now?”

So what is important to you now? What’s worth focusing your energy on, right at this moment? Keep your eyes on those ideas, stay connected to them, and you’ll be ready for the days and years that are anything but predictable.

Kathleen Smith is a therapist and author of the book Everything Isn’t Terrible: Conquer Your Insecurities, Interrupt Your Anxiety, and Finally Calm Down.

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