So many Americans are suffering from political anxiety that doctors have coined a term for their distress — President Trump Stress Disorder.
Patients are turning up in therapists’ offices across the country reporting symptoms including insomnia, hypervigilance, and the inability to pull themselves away from the 24-hour news cycle.
Therapists report that their practices are more robust than ever. Deborah Cooper, a California-based therapist said she can hardly accommodate all of her patients. “I have people I have not seen in literally 30 years that have called me to come back in because of trauma,” she said. “I am more than full. I am overworking.”
She cited Trump’s lackluster condemnation of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville as one in a string of anxiety-inducing events that are “coming too fast and furious” for her patients — and her practice — to handle.
Clinical psychologist Scott Christnelly said President Trump’s remarks Tuesday serve as confirmation that his patients’ anxiety is well founded. “This is more evidence they should be anxious. There is evidence the anxiety is real, and it’s not just something they are making up,” he said.
Worry over America’s future under Trump spans the country. It’s so pervasive that therapists say most of their clients have brought it up in session.
“I don’t think I have a patient that has never mentioned it. It’s remarkable,” said Sue Elias, a New York-based psychotherapist.
Elias described a patient raised in a dysfunctional, alcoholic household whose past traumas have been brought to the surface by Trump. Her worries and fears now interfere with her day-to-day functioning.
“This is so triggering for her, the feeling of every day, what is going to happen next,” Elias said. “It has interfered with her work and she is really struggling.”
An American Psychology Association study conducted after Trump was elected showed that 66% of adults, including Democrats and Republicans, said the future of the nation was causing them significant stress. Fifty-seven percent of adults identified the current political climate as a significant source of stress.
The APA reports that stress has, over the past 10 years, been trending downward among American adults. But stress levels spiked for the first time in January 2017, when Trump’s inauguration took place.
Talkspace, an online therapy service, also reported three times more traffic than usual in January. Demand for its services remains about one and a half times higher than usual, its founder and CEO Oren Frank told the Daily News.
It’s important, though, to distinguish between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and President Trump-induced anxiety.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America defines PTSD as a potentially debilitating condition occurring in people who have witnessed a life-threatening or traumatic event.
For the most part, political anxiety is less severe.
It is, however, chronic. “You can’t go a week without anything. Every week there is something else,” Cooper said.
And so psychotherapists have devised coping techniques.
Five ways to overcome Trump trauma
As hard as it might be to tear oneself away from the news, or from Trump’s Twitter account, therapists recommend disconnecting from electronic and social media for at least a few hours a day.
“Turn off Twitter, turn off the news. By 10 o’clock at night you should get rid of the electronic media, it’s just too agitating if you are anxious,” said Dr. Marlin S. Potash, a New York-based psychologist.
Another therapist advised taking an extended break from the news. “Shut it off for a couple days and don’t feel like you are putting yourself in danger. If there is something incredibly important, you are going to hear it,” Elias said.
This advice extends to participation in political conversations. “It’s important to stay informed and also important to know your limits and give yourself a break from social media, mainstream news and political discussions,” said Vaile Wright, a psychologist based in Washington, D.C.
2. Get involved
Therapists recommend turning agitation and anxiety into action, to help quell feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and gain a sense of empowerment.
This can mean volunteering for or donating to organizations supporting causes you believe in.
Dr. Sandy Haber, a New York-based psychologist, suggested calling and writing congressional representatives, getting involved in community politics, and making donations to politicians aligned with one’s views.
Stressing the body’s cardiovascular and muscular systems can help distract from political anxiety, according to psychotherapists. It also increases the amount of serotonin — a feel-good chemical — in the brain. “If you are anxious and you start exercising regularly, it will help balance your mood out,” Christnelly said.
“Go for a run, swim, do push-ups, sit-ups, or vacuum clean to Aretha Franklin,” Potash said.
4. Try to be understanding
It’s important for Trump haters to try to understand his appeal, therapists say.
“It’s important not to fall victim to the mistake of writing his supporters off as people who are ignorant,” said Joseph Pierre, a California-based psychologist. “Understand what the appeal of Trump is to understand what’s going on in our country to see how you might fit into changing things to see how you might want them to be changed.”
Finally, if your friends are sick of hearing you bemoan the Trump presidency, if you can’t talk to family about it, and you need to process how it’s affecting you, seek professional help.