10 Steps for the Mentally-Healthy Resistance
How to #resist and not lose your mind
With Donald Trump in the White House, tracking his every move can turn into some sort of exhausting, rubbernecking, manic-depressive, schadenfreude horror parade. You can’t look away from all of the things happening, both by him and to him.
But although it can be gratifying to watch him crash and burn — or horrifyingly important to watch his next assault on foundational American principles — spending your days in a constant Trump-induced panic makes you a less effective member of the resistance, as well as a fraught and unstable person to be around.
Mental health workers across the nation have noted an increase in people talking about politics-induced depression and anxiety since the bitter elections of 2016. And while it’s great that so many have been able to turn to therapy as a source of exploring the negative emotions brought about by our current political climate, countless people do not have the luxury of the time or finances often required for therapy. Fortunately, there are many tips and tricks that don’t require a therapist to employ.
Below are some suggestions that I’ve learned (sometimes painfully) in my own life, mixed in with commentary and suggestions from a trained mental health professional, about how to keep your wits about you in this age that we find ourselves in.
1 — No news from an hour before bed until 10 (or 11, or noon) the next day.
What, you may say. That’s impossible! 12 hours without news?
The fact is that your sleep, as well as the first hours of the day, are the most important hours for your brain to do the sort of “long”, proactive, strategy thinking that we need you to be doing. Filling it with “I can’t believe this” news stories of Trump’s every move puts you into a reactive mode for these hours of the day that you need to be using to do your most creative, inspired work — both for yourself, your job, and the resistance.
Limiting news before going to bed is also more likely to free you from addictive, infinite-scroll sites that turn “one last check-in” into an hour of hate-reading and lost sleep… subsequently making you less able to proactively start your morning the following day.
Additionally, some psychological research suggests that your brain is more likely to consolidate and encode material that you are exposed to immediately before falling asleep. It’s one thing to have Trump’s antics dominate your attention during your waking hours, but don’t let them dominate your dreams as well!
2 — Take practical steps to curb your news intake.
Turn off notifications from your news apps. Better yet, uninstall the native apps — you can still visit in the browser.
Uninstall Twitter and Facebook on your phone. Install Facebook news feed eradicator for your browser of choice.
A big revolution for me was to start waking up with an alarm clock instead of my phone — charging my phone in the living room means that I rarely even look at it for at least the first 30–45 minutes of my day… and I have never missed it once.
We realize that some may need to monitor the news — either because it’s your job, or because Trump and his cabinet's actions may put them in danger. If this is the case, we suggest building or joining monitoring networks, or working in shifts so that when you’re on you’re on, but when you’re not you can focus on other important things.
3 — Remind yourself that reading the news doesn’t change it.
Trump will act the way that he will act no matter if you read about it or not. Your time is better spent proactively working towards something, rather than reading about Trump’s latest outrageous escapade.
Remind yourself how your job is working to change a small part of the world, how your work is a small part of the resistance. Plan your next protest or teach-in, or write a letter to your member of congress. Reconnect with an estranged cousin in a red state or reach out to your family and remind them you love them. These are all great, proactive uses of this time over reading news. The more positive human connection we have the better in today’s age.
If you must monitor Trump news for your job, make sure there’s a rotation.
And finally, if your job is really so horrible that you can’t find anything proactive to do, and you just need to check the news in order to feel like you’re involved with something important… maybe it’s time to look for a new job.
4- Remind yourself that posting (and arguing) online is ineffective.
Sharing your latest thought on Trump’s most recent antic may feel to good to you, but keep in mind that you’re likely just broadcasting your outrage to others who are similarly outraged as you. It’s okay to discuss the crazy, unprecedented nature of modern times on your wall like you might it in your living room, but take the pressure off yourself to be the sole informant and thought-leader for your friends and family.
Focus less on posts parroting the same things traditional liberal-leaning news outlets are putting into the “water”, and focus more on posting your own unique opinions and experiences. Social media needs less “Terrifying [Slate Article]” posts, and more “This is how this current event is affecting me…” Especially if you have some sort of unique, minority, or unprivileged perspective.
Additionally, as you make (polite) posts or comments on social media, don’t feel you need to defend yourself against people who will disagree with you. By posting, you’re sharing valuable thoughts and experiences — which is good for your community to see. However, you don’t need to engage or justify yourself to “the haters” who comment on your posts. When you do, it typically ends with a) spending too much time online, b) both sides saying things they regret and may destroy relationships, and c) positions becoming even more calcified. Let others duke it out in the comments.
5 — Engage deeply with quality journalism.
Although we’re recommending uninstalling news apps, we still highly recommend subscribing to, supporting, and reading newspapers that give quality coverage.
Spend less time on the day-to-day happenings — you can get those summarized for you at Axios, Economist Espresso, or the Skimm. Spend your time engaging with longer, deeper articles in places like New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, the Economist, FP, or your local paper. Subscribe to Longreads and read their picks every weekend. Start thinking about how progressives will solve the problems of tomorrow, not just how we wish we were solving the problems of today.
6 — Be wary of news that riles you up, and don’t confuse sharing them with having control.
Research shows that the one predictor of whether you will click and share something is valence, or the emotion that something stirs. It’s not “informativeness” it’s not “helpfulness”. Its emotion. Many news sites — even very reputable ones — have figured this out, meaning that they phrase their headlines and stories to stir maximum discomfort and outrage.
Be wary of sites that consistently feed you things that make you go “OMG!” and immediately want to share it. Realize that many sites profit through your outrage by driving your clicks and advertising from the friends you will share the article with. Think twice before sharing, and even better, consider getting your news from sources that still report facts — but in a less breathless, outraged manner. Again, Axios and The Economist are great sources for this.
Also, realize that when we feel out of control, we search for small things that we can control to make us feel better. Sharing news is one of those things. Trump may be holding Washington hostage, but I can get this anti-Trump message out to my friends.
The reality is, if you’re seeing it online, it’s likely that the message is already “in the water” and your friends are going to hear about it from another source anyway. Before you share something that makes you infuriated, ask yourself if this is contributing a new voice to the discussion in your community… or if sharing it for you is just a replacement for the control you want to feel.
7 — Know the right balance between engaging and self-care
If there was one lesson from the 2016 election for liberals, it’s that we need to spend less time in self-congratulatory progressive bubbles and more time engaging emotionally, spiritually, and economically with the rest of the country who we don’t see eye-to-eye with.
Pushing yourself to engage in positive ways with others who don’t agree with you is a healthy, important part of the resistance. However, you need to know how much you can handle, and what the right balance for you is between trying to have productive discussions with your crazy uncle and taking breaks.
8 — Practice mindfulness
It’s almost too easy to let your mind play out all the worst case scenarios every time Trump does something seemingly-catastrophic. It’s also easy to dwell on the what-ifs and replay the mistakes of the past that brought us to the situation we now face. Mindfulness is a simple way of teaching your brain to focus not on the disappointments of the past and the anxieties of the future but to instead focus non-judgmentally on the present.
Research has repeatedly demonstrated the positive mental health effects of engaging in mindfulness practices just 3–5 minutes daily. Learning to ground yourself in the present will make you even more effective in participating in your work and the resistance. Additionally, if you’re a person of faith, incorporating prayer into this practice can help you feel more connected to God, and can help with the recognition that larger forces are at play and that the future might not be as scary as it can seem sometimes.
9 — Find support in communities.
Mental health is far more difficult to achieve and maintain in isolation. We need people in our lives who will celebrate with us when things are going well and mourn with us when things are looking bleak. It’s important to feel connected to communities that refresh and recharge you as you begin to implement the tips outlined above.
For some, it might look like being more active in a political action groups. Some might choose to become more active in their religious communities. You can reconnect with old friends from your college protesting days, get more involved in your local school’s PTA, start a running club, grab lunch on a regular basis with coworkers you enjoy… it doesn’t matter what the context is, as long as you’re connecting with people that give you energy and support and can help you remember both that you’re not alone, as well as the things that are important in your life outside of the political sphere. Yes, politics are important right now, but so are many others aspects of your life.
10 — Look at more photos of dogs and cats.
I watched a bunch of videos of dog fails, and now my YouTube recommendations have turned into a nice mix of cute animals, Stephen Colbert, and Taylor Swift videos… which makes me a much happier person than just an onslaught of “Morning Joe DESTORYS Kellyanne Conway” or “Trump Supporter Asks Question, Immediately REgrets It”.
Because often I click on that video… and immediately regret it.
In the end, this advice boils down to a sort of political, 21st century version of “The Serenity Prayer” written by Reinhold Niebuhr. Our Trump-era adaption below.
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting opposing viewpoints as a part of democracy.
Taking, as our founding fathers did,
This in-progress country as it is,
Not as we would have it.
Trusting that gradually The People will make things right,
If we don’t lose focus, and spend our efforts wisely,
So that we may be reasonably sane in this presidential term (however long… or short… it may be)
And supremely happy in the next.