Mental Health in the Age of Trump – December 10, 2017

Powerlessness is a common theme these days. Many of those who voted for Donald Trump for president did so to combat the feeling that the world they’d known had all but vanished. Many more who voted against him have spent the last year feeling that the world they’d hoped for was a mirage. Either way, the sense of a loss of agency in one’s own life is extreme, and can leave individuals with feelings of hopelessness and depression.

We are indeed in the throes of a substantial identity crisis as a nation, and, taken as a whole, that is an extremely overwhelming and disempowering concept. A more helpful perspective may be to think about our own identities at this time, and what sort of person and contributor we want to be. After all, the collective is made up of nothing but many individuals; and recognizing the choices you do have is the best possible antidote to larger feelings of helplessness.

These choices can be something as simple as choosing what book to read next, or opting to spend the night at home on the couch rather than socializing. Self-care is extremely valuable to emphasize when you feel a lack of ability to effect change in the world at large.

They can also be larger goals you set for yourself (“I will spend 4 hours a month volunteering in my community” or “I will apply to five new jobs a week”). Focus on specificity if you do set out a more ambitious task for yourself. In the two previous examples, a prescribed amount of time or work is named. Specificity provides boundaries, which help to make us feel safer and more in control, directly combating the powerlessness that we may be prone to at this time.

Finally, and perhaps counterintuitively, sometimes leaning into the very things we feel most resistant to are the most empowering. For example, feelings of helplessness can often lead to anger and lashing out. What impact would it have to focus on making the choice to be kinder and more compassionate, in particular to individuals with whom we disagree? Most of us will find this suggestion to be extremely challenging. But overcoming challenges is one of the ways we typically define success, and often simply making an attempt to do so leaves one feeling stronger and more self-determined.

Once we have taken steps to focus on what we can control as individuals, it can then be useful to step back and assess the bigger picture. Societies are subject to many cycles: economic, emotional, environmental. Balancing what will be best to meet our own needs with what will contribute to the health of the world around us can feel like a lot of work. But if we take it one step at a time: recognizing the agency we have over our own lives, and then how that impacts others, we find ourselves on the path to reclaiming a healthy mental state.