A year ago, no one would have predicted a Donald Trump nomination, but with Ted Cruz and John Kasich no longer in the race, it is a foregone conclusion that Trump will be the Republican candidate for president. Though we can't predict what may happen between now and November, one thing is certain: the anxiety related to the mere thought of a President Trump is high.
Much of the anxiety is utter disbelief that he can be doing so well. People wonder how someone they perceive as a bully can actually be the likely nominee. After all, growing up we're not taught to be mean and we'll be popular; we're taught quite the opposite. The fact that he is doing well throws people off their normal course of thinking and causes anxiety. They wonder, "How can someone be so divisive and yet so popular?"
In my view, it is simple: Trump has tapped into a hungry populace and his message resonates. If you think of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, at the very base level is security, personally, financially, and in health and well-being. Trump's message has targeted all of them in a way the other candidates haven't. He's fused fear with an inspirational message, "Let's make America great again"--the very structure of the slogan suggest that America isn't great (fear) and that we must aim for greatness (inspirational). Love him or hate him, the message resonates with the electorate-- they have found their cheerleader and in many cases he's given a voice to the voiceless.
But those who don't feel empowered may feel anxious. In fact, clients are telling me about their worries over a potential President Trump in increasing numbers since Super Tuesday. Not since George W. Bush have I seen this level of anxiety over a candidate or political figure. And now, with the nomination just about locked up, the intense fears are even greater. Close to 25 percent of my patients express concerns about him. For one of four patients, Trump anxiety trumps the depression and anxiety that people usually want to discuss. To give you some more perspective, that means these people are more worried about Trump being elected than they are about their careers, relationships, financial woes, and even sexual performance--all the usual stuff patients speak to me about.
As is the case with other fears, peoples' minds pull up worst case scenarios. "He'll attack Russia," "He'll deport people unlawfully," "I'm moving to Canada." They feel powerless at the mere thought of a President Trump. Their uncertainty over what exactly would happen in a Trump administration leads to more anxiety as their mind fills in the blanks, usually with unsubstantiated information. Whether it's a fear of public speaking or fear of flying or now a fear of a President Trump, I advise people to separate fact from fiction and to focus on things that are within their control, not beyond it--not too different from an entrepreneur who is working on developing a business. Focusing on fact rather than fiction is what will lead to the greatest success.
One should also be reminded that in the United States, there's a system of checks and balances and it is actually quite difficult to get new policy written into law. Think about just how realistic it is that Trump would, or even could, implement radical changes to existing policy. People should realize it simply isn't that easy to enact policy and our two-party system does a wonderful job of providing a forum to debate proposed policy before it ever can possibly go into law.
Sometimes anxiety is really about feeling that you have no control. This is certainly true with clients who face uncertainty in business and also the case with Trump anxiety. People feel they'll have no control should he be elected. To deal with this, think about what you actually can control. For example, your own life, how you conduct yourself, and which news sources you choose to pay attention to. There's no doubt sensationalism sells and there's an overabundance of it now related to this election. That said, choose a trusted news source and stick with it. No need to inundate yourself with election news. Similarly, choose who you talk to and about what. If you have a friend who loves Trump and you don't, and all he or she talks about is Trump, well, spend less time with that person or just explain that you appreciate his followers' passion for the candidate but you hold a different view and don't want to let politics get between the two of you, so best to leave it behind.
Finally, before hitting the panic button and researching ways to move to Canada, take a deep breath, relax, and try to appreciate the fact that you actually have the freedom to vote, express your views, and exercise the option to rally for a candidate of your choosing. Enjoy this process. Get involved with the candidate you support and do your part to get him or her elected. Complaining about a candidate might feel good and provide a sense of camaraderie. However, it will also reinforce negativity and ultimately make you feel bad about the election. So instead, embrace the true privilege and honor of voting rights in the midst of the Trump hoopla, and think clearly and rationally as you move forward.