Since President Trump has taken office, change is coming fast and furious. It’s one assault on constitutional rights after another. One unacceptable cabinet nomination after another. One outrageous public statement after another.
What are we to make of these events? What are we to do? In the midst of increasing my political engagement and activism, I am taking time discuss read, think and write about these questions.
Right now I’m asking: What is the intended impact of hastily written executive orders, firings of dissenters, a rushed nomination process, and other actions that threaten the fabric of our democracy?
That fabric was imperfect from the start and over the years has become increasingly frayed and in need of repair. But what we’ve gotten, instead of efforts to mend and strengthen it, is an administration that is tearing new, gaping holes in it.
The intent, I suspect, is to consolidate power, escalate our fear and anxiety, put us into reactive mode, gaslight us, exhaust us, and distract us by keeping attention scattered across an array of issues that need to be addressed. What are we to do?
I find it necessary to manage fear and anxiety. That for me includes remembering self-care and self-compassion – treating myself as kindly as I would treat a frightened, anxious friend. I’m sharing some of my approaches here. You likely have ways that work well for you.
Whatever you do, remember to prioritize self-care. This is not the time to get too busy, too outraged or too fear and anxiety-driven to take time for ourselves.
This can be writing for 10 minutes or so about whatever comes to mind. It can be responding to prompts, or choosing a specific theme to explore. You can write poetry, stories or essays. This can be writing just for you, without concern for the conventions of spelling, grammar and structure. It can be writing that you edit for publication. In the act of writing, I discover what I think, feel and believe. I can create a coherent story from a chaos of impressions and emotions.I can shift my perspective and let go of ideas or feelings that aren’t serving me.
Creating visual images.
Just as you don’t have to be an author to benefit from writing, you don’t have to be a trained artist to find great value in drawing, doodling, collaging, painting or photographing. You can sit down with your materials and just see what emerges. Or, as in writing you can use specific prompts or themes to get you started. Creating imagery and then writing about it can lead to deeper exploration and understanding than either form of self-expression alone.
Noticing signs of beauty and kindness.
This reminds me that even in difficult times there is much good in the world. Focusing attention on those things that bring gratitude, joy, generosity and a sense of agency and personal power are helpful.
Finding ways to deeply relax.
You might have a favored practice, like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga. I tend to vary what I do. I guess that makes me a relaxation dilettante, but it’s what works for me! Knitting is high on my list of ways to calm and center, so long as I’m making something that’s at the right level of challenge, not so easy that I get bored, or so difficult that I get frustrated.
Respecting messages from your body.
When you’re tired, rest. If you’re dealing with an injury or illness, take the time and offer yourself the attention needed to heal. Remember to give yourself good food – things you enjoy, things that are nourishing. Make time for physical activity, whether that’s something you build into your daily activities or set-aside time for exercise. A little time spent exercising is better than none. Moderate activity is fine. If you like to be more vigorous that’s good too. Do what feels good to you, and encourage yourself to continue.
Giving and receiving support.
A lot of us, myself included, tend to be stronger on the giving than the receiving of help and support. While it’s true that sharing our gifts with the world also blesses us, when giving and doing becomes a one way street, the eventual destination is burnout. Seek out and accept the help and support that helps you feel calmer, stronger, better able to think clearly and more able to cope.
Laughing every day, enjoying the company of loved ones, celebrating important events, feeling energized by your activism and enjoying it are restorative, uplifting and great antidotes to stress, anxiety and worry.
Reacting or Responding?
Fear and anxiety can make us reactive. Reacting makes sense in an immediate emergency when our security, safety or survival are at stake. It’s a useful, short-term strategy and is related to the sense of dread we experience when frightened by a specific threat. Anxiety, a longer-term sense of distress can be the result of apprehension about possible threats we may face in the future. It’s difficult to find thoughtful resposes when were scared or anxious. Yet to mount an effective, sustained resistance in difficult times, clear thinking and thoughtful responses are exactly what are needed.
I’m not saying “don’t be afraid or worried.” There is reason to have those feelings. Instead of letting them overwhelm and push us into reactivity, use them to get motivated into effective action. There are a number of things I’ve found to be helpful in creating conditions that reduce my reactivity and increase my capacity for thoughtful response.
I now subscribe to and read more sources of news and commentary. I need this because I need more sources than what’s going on in my own mind to understand and integrate what is happening, and to work out what I think.
Limiting and scheduling exposure to news and social media.
My ritual used to be to read the news and social media first thing in the morning, along with breakfast and coffee. That’s becoming too stressful a way to start the day. Instead, I am waiting until a little later on, when I feel awake, energized and less vulnerable. It’s also helpful to choose who to follow and what to read on social media. It can be helpful to read thoughtful comments from people who’s views match mine and dissent from mine. I try to avoid reading reactive rants from anywhere along the political spectrum as a way of keeping my anxiety level down.
I cannot financially support every cause, join every march or contact my legislators on every issue. I can trust that others have my back. There are millions of us across the country and around the world. While I cannot address everything, collectively we can cover all the necessary bases. I choose those that I have time and energy for, that I am naturally drawn to, that use my gifts and talents, and that I enjoy doing. Our wonderful diversity of interests, gifts and talents means someone else is drawn to do different things than I am, so I free myself of the overwhelm that otherwise might take over.
Acknowledging fears and anxieties.
Trying to push them aside or avoid them because they don’t feel so good doesn’t work for the long haul. Neither does getting caught in them to the extent that they cause paralysis or despair. What does help? For me, it’s useful to identify those that are realistic and then do my best to come up with strategies and plans to address them. I find some fears are realistic and immediate concerns. Others are realistic, possible but still unlikely. Some are just free-floating anxieties that I can’t do much about. For the immediate threats, I do what I can to minimize the danger involved. With those that are possible but less likely, I’m taking what steps I can to protect myself and my family from what I see to be the most threatening. For those that seem to me to be unrealistic or exaggerated, I recognize them and then put them aside, something I may have to do repeatedly as they don’t just disappear. Strategies like writing about them or creating visuals as mentioned above often help me do that. Reading and listening to what others have to say about this has been helpful to me too.
In for the Long Haul
Our task during the challenging years ahead is to take care of ourselves so we can commit to effective action for the long haul. This starts with taking care of ourselves, not to shut out the world, but to strengthen ourselves to fully engage in it, in all of it’s strife and all of it’s glory.
Some Readings and Resources
Art and Writing Prompts
Sarah Tillman – Start and End Happy (video)
Lucia Capacchione – The Creative Journal (book)
Louise DeSalvo – Writing As A Way of Healing (book)
Keys to Change Facebook Group – request to join
Self Care and Self-Compassion
Mirah Curzer How to Stay Outraged Without Losing Your Mind (article)
Suzi Banks Baum – on honoring your instinct for self care (blog post).
Reactivity and Thoughtful Response
Susan Piver – Five Ways Not to Bite the Trump Hook (blog post)
Nancy Seibel – Action or Reaction? (blog post)