How to self-care in the Age of Trump: 45 daily acts to stay sane in the chaos and madness
I’ve said and written very little about the Trump presidency in the United States and the rise of the alt/far right elsewhere. The simple reason is that I don’t wish to be drawn into a social media dogfight. My role in life, as I’ve defined it, is to help build institutions and organizations that will support a more peaceful and just human society.
Anything that takes me away from that goal isn’t worth my time. Also, I’m clear that not everyone who voted for Trump is my enemy nor even my ideological opponent. As much as I disagree with the policies and outlook of the Trump Administration, I’m not willing to create a wall between myself and the people who support it.
One of the major obstacles to peace on this planet is entrenched belief systems that are often substitutes for independent thinking. Each person has a basket of social and political views that don’t always map neatly over Left and Right, Authoritarian and Democratic. We owe to ourselves and each other to dig deeper and move past simplistic and divisive labels.
So why am I writing this now, 19-months in the Trump Administration? Because I’m seeing the deteriorating health and well-being of people everywhere. The toxic and divisive language and policies, including mass deceptions and naked lying, is punishing and corrosive to the mental and physical health of people everywhere.
Even writing the headline and searching for the photo for this article triggered in me a wave of anxiety and uncertainty. Should I be explicit about naming the 45th US president or say something more generic about the times we live? Will the trolls come for me if I speak out? Will I become part of the entrenched ideological (and sometimes actual) battle for the soul of humanity and lose my perspective on what’s important to my life’s purpose?
And then I drew a foot bath, set up my workstation with essential oils, a 1.4L bottle of filtered water and my cannabis topical cream moisturizer I realized I had to write this post without flinching.
If literally, the idea of engaging in the public square about Trump could cause me to recoil in horror and anxiety then I needed to write this piece for all those who don’t have the ability and privilege to step away from the nightmare that many are experiencing.
Part of being an authentic human is to speak out and help others in times of trials and tribulations. If the self-care/self-help/improvement community is worthy of its own ideals, members of it need to speak out when their values are threatened regardless of the consequences.
We live in a time of great uncertainty and the threat of chaos looms. I don’t place the blame squarely at Trump’s feet. I mean it’s not like life for us humans was all peachy in 2015 and previous. The creepy threat of authoritarianism and scapegoating of Muslims, immigrants and people of colour has been in the post for a while now.
Even without Trump’s vile policies and bullying of immigrants and non-whites, we’d still be dealing with a planet heating up, massive income inequality and the rise of the far-right. As much as these challenges have been ratcheted up by the Trump Administration, he comes to embody the zeitgeist as much as he defines it.
And yet, there’s something different about the era that The Donald has ushered in. With each international treaty he trashes, each trade deal he tears up, each social norm of dignity and humanity he ignores our human family experiences a tear in the fabric of normality.
Whether or not this is enough to wake up humans to take action and avoid a global catastrophe is beyond anyone’s guess. But even if the most positive and cheery outlooks, by some miracle, turns out to be correct we are in for a period of grave instability and chaotic events both natural and otherwise.
Let’s face it, even if you’re a front-line activist you can’t just be angry all time, you’ll burn out fast. And if you’re someone who’s more comfortable doing other types of work or just a passive observer trying to survive, taking care of yourself in these times is critical.
If you’re a Trump supporter reading this, these acts of self-care can and will lead you to greater peace and clarity within. I sense that its this lack of inner peace — and perhaps your economic and political frustrations — that has you want to support such a radical tearing down of the global, political order.
Self-care is the art and science and taking care of your body, mind and spirit. It’s not just for wealthy narcissists, it’s for everyone. We each come to this planet gifted a body that only we can truly care for. This doesn’t mean we don’t need outside expertise from time-to-time but the core of our responsibility for our health and well-being is our own.
So here’s a list of 45 things you can do to care for yourself, your family and your community regardless of what happens next in the global arena. None of these suggestions require anything more than minimal (if any) financial investment and all of them will take time, repetition and patience to show maximum results:
- Intentional breathing: Whether you follow a specific system of breathing like this or this or simply learning to take periods of consciously breathing slowly and consistently, your breath is both your greatest alarm system for anxiety and also a powerful antidote. When you begin to observe your breath throughout the day you’ll notice how it can sometimes be short and fast and other times it will be long and slow. When you feel a sense of anger, fear or overwhelm you’ll notice the breath can get very fast and shallow. This is your time to take a few minutes and step away from the television, computer or protest to bring some calm to your nervous system by slowing down the breath. One technique I use which is nearly fool-proof is the equal in/exhale breath. All you need to do is count each breath in and each breath out. A few minutes of this can bring you back to a normal rate of breathing or at least a slower one.
- Grounding/Earthing: Taking your barefeet and placing them on the earth is an immensely calming and restorative act. The science behind this practice is only now coming out but needless to say there’s enough mainstream health practitioners and researchers to quell even the staunchest skeptic. I usually begin and end my day with this practice and I can literally feel my energy field balancing and a state of calm rises up from my feet and touches my entire physical body.
- Movement: Whether it’s dancing, stretching, yoga, cardio or some other form, movement of the body can release massive amounts of tension, release feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin and bring calm to the mind. Especially when times are chaotic and stressful, taking a few minutes each day to just move your body will help bring a positive outlook in even the most grim of times.
- Sleep: Whoa boy, this is a big one. For many people sleep is the first thing to go from their self-care when times get tough. And yet its one of (or the) most important aspects to overall health and happiness. Don’t believe me? Try not sleeping for more than a day and still be effective. There’s just way to much research behind sleep science to even dispute this.
- Unplugging from technology: In order to get a great night’s sleep, experts recommend shutting down tech at least an hour before bed. In order to stay sane in the Age of Trump I recommend taking intermittent breaks from social media and technology at least 1/day per week. For me I try to do that on Sundays. It’s amazing how great I feel even after a few hours away from Facebook and Google. It helps be gain perspective on life and keeps from tunneling too deep down the rabbit hole.
- Go the bleep outside!: Similar to grounding, just being outside in nature is extremely relaxing and restorative. Even looking out the window and watching the birds go by can be a deeply peaceful experience. In these chaotic times, simply taking a short walk in a park, by a river or lake or even in your own backyard is almost mandatory to maintain your sanity.
- Hug a tree: The first time I engaged in human-arboreal tenderness I waited until it was dark and I went to the furthest tree that people could see and tentatively approached it. When I finally wrapped my arms around the giant maple (cuz I’m Canadian eh?) I felt a surge of energy and pressure release through my entire body. Somehow the tree and I shared a moment that I couldn’t ignore. Connecting with trees helps me remember two things: 1) That nature is a healer far beyond what I ever thought possible and 2) That trees often live 2–4 human lifespans and despite all the mayhem and chaos that exists in the world are still here.
- Have some sex: Let’s face it, the old in-and-out exercise is about as relaxing and calming of a drug we know of. In times of trouble bodies often naturally seek comfort from other bodies and as well they should. And as my old rugby coach used to say, “all great sex has a hint of desperation.” Well if that’s true, there should be a lot of great sex to be had in these times.
- You can’t have enough long hugs: For those times where sex isn’t on the table, hugging your comrades and family members can be a wonderful respite from the madness around us. A 20-second hug will release oxytocin, the “love hormone” and can really help someone who’s in distress (with enthusiastic consent obvi) calm down and relax. A non-sciency reason for long hugs is that it create bonds of community between people, crucial for any collective action that may be necessary as we move through this dark time.
- Stay hydrated my friends: Water, water, water is key to maintaining and sustaining health. There’s different guides to how much water we need each and it will differ for each of us. The point is to find your optimal (not just minimum) amount of water you need each day and stick to it. In working with clients I often find this self-care act to be easily overlooked. For me it took over a year of daily focus (including multiple reminder alarms) before I can safely say I’m consistent with my water intake.
- Fresh, fresh, fresh foods when possible: How we nourish our bodies has such an impact on our well-being and outlook. The more fresh (and local) foods we can ingest the better. Not only does this make sense environmentally and physiologically, we might be facing some major trade wars which could limit the amount of food that we can import.
- Grow a garden: I’m super fortunate to have grown up with gardening parents as well as having a father-in-law who’s backyard looks like a produce section of a grocery store. Further to #11, having local, fresh veggies and fruits will dramatically improve your health and give the sustenance to meet whatever demands the world throws at you. Also, if shit really hits the fan we’ll all be growing our own food anyway so might as well get a head-start. Also, gardening is relaxing af! Digging your hands in the soil and puttering around will create a sense of grounding and peace.
- Shout, yell and express your feelings: We all feel things deeply and with a constant stream of horror coming to our newsfeed we need to give ourselves the opportunity to release these feelings in a healthy way. One way is to rage out on your pillows, literally. Let yourself punch and hit your pillows or soft cushions and just go buck wild. After about 3–4 minutes you’ll be wiped and should feel some deep catharsis. Another technique I use is yelling into water. When I was going through some really tough times I’d walk down to Lake Ontario and scream like a wild-person. It helped a lot.
- Write, write, write: Keeping a journal where you can pour (pore? lol)your thoughts and feelings into can be a deeply healing practice. Sometimes we have very dark thoughts that just need to be expressed. Despair, rage and bitterness aren’t feelings you necessarily want to share with others yet keeping them inside isn’t healthy either. On one of my really sad days since Trump was elected I just started writing about it and before long I found myself writing a short-story where I was his therapist. Perhaps I’ll publish this one day but either way I write every day as way to just keep myself sane.
- Art is cathartic and powerful: Whether you’re a painter, poet or dancer creating art with our darkest feelings and worries is both a wonderful stress-reliever and it can inspire others to take action. Not everyone feels called to take direct action and art is a powerful way to get involved in a practical and thoughtful way. So write that play, paint that mural or dance that dance for the peace and well-being of us all.
- Eyes-closed free-hand drawing: My good friend Peter showed me this technique. Take a blank piece of paper and a drawing instrument. Close your eyes and just allow your hand to move wherever it feels like. You can have an image in your mind or just feel through it. To really feel the sense of freedom, try it with your non-dominant hand. I do this practice after each client session and it really helps me clear away any energy that I’ve picked up and create a ritual for ending these sessions powerfully.
- Connect with some animal friends: Fluffy, feathery, mammal or reptilian it matters not. Animals have the unique position of not reading the news, having political opinions or judging you for your actions. This space of unconditional fellowship is the mainstay of many a dog, cat, fish, gerbil, snake or monkey owner. Keeping pets isn’t your thing? Try spending some time watching the birds fly by for a few minutes each day.
- Meditation: Further to #1, meditation combines conscious breathing and detached observing. There are so many techniques out there but the one that’s easiest to learn is simply observing the breath. Watching the entire inhale and entire exhale. Even 5-minutes of this will drastically shift your perspective in a day. Far from disconnecting you from the world, these short respites fuel up the mind to be nimble and calm the nerves, a must in a chaotic environment. Advanced meditators can also influence those around them simply by engaging in the technique.
- Laughter really is the best medicine: It can be very difficult to find humour in the suffering and mayhem of the world. And yet, if we don’t find ways to lighten the mood we are doomed to despair. The health benefits to laughter are well known and hardly need mention. Sometimes dark humour can help and other times some simple slapstick humour can do the trick. Either way, know your audience and encourage each other to not take life so seriously. Laugh today, you can always cry tomorrow.
- Host or attend a listening circle: We can’t do all this shit alone, our power, strength and healing is amplified when we share in community. It’s cathartic to simply share ourselves with people we feel safe with. It can be a sisterhood gathering, a men’s circle, a community sharing bonfire, whatever. The only requirement is that we shut the eff up and listen to our fellow participants, no advice or feedback is necessary. Then when it’s our turn to speak we let it rip and share authentically from the heart. Having someone who’s skilled in trauma processing may be necessary if the circle has people who’ve experienced trauma and wish to share it.
- Music, live or recorded: If you play an instrument you already know how healing and relaxing music can be. If you’re like me and just love listening to great music you also know this. Starting your day with some inspiring, uplifting music can fortify you for any challenges that come. Ending your day with some soft, gentle tunes can help the day slip away and ease you into your very important sleep!
- Sing, sing out loud: Singing wildly and freely like no one is listening can be deeply restorative and inspires courage for us and whoever is listening. Tony Robbins does loud, chanting-like singing as part of his routine and there’s a reason. I’ve helped clients breakthrough years of low self-esteem simply by singing or chanting loudly. If you don’t feel comfortable singing in front of others or don’t know any songs to sing, try just shouting out the vowel sounds for a few minutes. “a, a, a, a, ee, ee, ee, etc.”
- Clear your energy by taking breaks: We all have important work to do if we want to have a planet that works for everyone and yet the urgency and enormity of our task will be served by taking frequent breaks. Slow down to speed up. I sometimes use the 45-minutes on, 15-minutes off strategy especially when I’m writing or doing computer work. I also give myself a mandatory 1-hour break after each client session. If I don’t then I set myself for a breakdown later where I may be forced to take a day or more away from my very important work.
- Let yourself cry: Especially important for men at this time, tears allow for release of stress, sadness and despair. Rather than being a sign of giving up, it’s actually a powerful way to regroup and heal. For me, my tears (suppressed for about 33-years of my life) are my lifeline to understanding my emotions and allow me to clear out inner-junk before returning to the task at hand.
- Don’t engage in meaningless debates: There’s no faster way to deplete your energy than by jumping into every discussion on social media with both feet. For those who are called to express their activism online it’s important to pick and choose your spots. Better than trying to convince your opponents of your rightness is to choose an issue that really care about and help build an organization to see it realized.
- Separate the sin from the sinner where possible: This old Christian advice can be easily applied to the current political environment. When we demonize our opponents and make it too personal we lose ability to influence and persuade moderates and also our opponents. Yes there’s a time to stand up and fight for justice but further to #25 we don’t need to demonize those whom we are fighting. This isn’t for their sake but for our own. When we demonize our enemies we often allow ourselves to take on their methods and we become the very thing we hate.
- Be kind and gentle to ourselves and our allies: The world is in a bad place right now and there’s no easy solutions to right the ship. We are going to make mistakes and big ones at that. So will those with whom we share common visions. It’s ok, mistakes happen. We can easily over or under react and so can everyone else. Accepting that will help us conserve energy for the long road ahead and allow us to attract more people to our cause.
- Listen to our inner voice: The discernment required to respond to the injustice and violence is immense. There are no rule books for the battles that we will need to wage since most of them involve changing hearts and minds rather than violent encounters. Our inner voice or intuition will be our best friends in this endeavor, learn to trust yours above all else. This will keep your sanity intact and likely lead to more efficient ways to respond to grave situations. In the event of civil unrest, listening to this voice might save our lives in a critical moment.
- Spend time with children and young people: If living in the Age of Trump is confusing and challenging for adults, imagine how children and youth feel? Hanging out with young folks will help us ensure that the generations to follow learn from our mistakes and will also give us fresh inspiration for what we are fighting for. Also, the energy and vibrant optimism of children can’t help but rub off on us.
- Swim and spend time near water: Water is what we and the planet are mostly made of. Reconnecting to this purifying element can cool down our anger, bring relaxation and exercise to our bodies and help us remember to play and laugh even when times are tough.
- Take care of your feet: There’s a reason Lieutenant Dan told Forest and Bubba to take care of their feet. The feet contain acupressure points that connect to the entire body, just taking a few minutes each day to massage and care for our feet can make an immense difference in our health. For bonus self-care points, take a bucket of warm water, drop in some bath salts and essential oils and soak those dogs for a few minutes. Thank me later, once we’ve brought about a deep shift in the world.
- Self-massage: Take time each day to massage your hands, neck, shoulders and legs. Use aids like foam rollers and rubber balls to assist.
- Receive massages: If you’ve got access and the means for a massage therapist, include it in your regular self-care. Even spending 15-minutes receiving a skilled massage can give you the restoration and energy of a full night’s sleep. Don’t worry if you’ve got no money, do an exchange with a friend and you also get the healing that comes from offering service as well as receiving.
- Use plant medicines in moderation: Let’s be real here, there will be days where we all feel like getting shitfaced or high and just forgetting this entire sordid nightmare for a while. And there may be times where that’s just the thing. But most of the time, reliance on medicines like alcohol, cannabis, psychedelics, etc. will cause more harm than good. Remember we need to stay sharp for the challenges ahead, so use these products with care and moderation.
- Take care of others: Once our cups of self-care are full, we can reach out to see who in our circle needs support. Not only will this create bonds of reciprocity when we need help but supporting others gets us outside of our heads and can be healing in and of itself.
- Create clear “why” rituals: In tough times we can sometimes forget the greater reasons for the struggles. Using photos and other art we can create reminders in our homes and offices of why it’s important to fight for a better world. When we lose hope, when despair arises we can connect with these objects, artifacts or even people to remind us that we must keep moving forward.
- Keep communication channels open: Whether with allies, neutrals or opponents we need to remain open to dialogue. For our rivals may (and we hope) will come to see that the road to a better world involves those we disagree as well as agree with. The only we will all get out of this mess will be together or not at all.
- Build organizations capable of shaping a new world: As I’ve mentioned before, we can’t just fight every battle in the street and hope for the best. If you’re not a warrior-minded soul then perhaps you’re contribution will be by building the businesses, communities and political organizations of the future. By focusing your energy on projects that will show and not tell the world what you believe in, you can build confidence and capacity in yourself and others.
- Don’t take this personally: As challenging of an idea this may be, remember this isn’t personal to you. Even if you’re a target of an authoritarian regime, it isn’t you the person that is said target. It’s who you represent. The more you can allow yourself to be separate from these events the more you’ll safeguard your identity and, in time, will show the scapegoaters and fascists that you can’t be reduced to a dehumanized other.
- This too shall pass: Despair often comes far before its time. We can easily get down and dejected given the state of the world, especially since its likely to get worse before its get better. Yet, all things must pass, all challenges must cease in time. Remembering that this reality wasn’t always this way and there will be a time when it will pass away, giving birth to a brighter day.
- Go inward for strength and recovery: There’s no greater healer for you than you. You know what you need, you know what works and your heart is your greatest guide to navigate through difficult times. No matter how many times you need to step away from the madness do so and know that when you return, you’ll be stronger and more capable than you are now.
- Patience will win in the end: Dictators and strongmen tend to burn out over time. We can wait it out, we have the strength, we have the numbers. To be patient as we face these dark days may well be the greatest gift we can offer ourselves and each other. Nelson Mandela comes as a powerful model for this approach.
- Connect to a higher power or presence of the infinite: Regardless of religious or spiritual perspective, or lack thereof, connecting to an idea, concept or source of power can be immensely empowering in tough times. I once knew a recovering drug addict who was also an atheist. His higher power were white spruce trees. Find something that inspires you and create regular rituals to reinforce your relationship with this entity or source.
- Remember you’re not alone: We are all in this mess together, we can turn to one another for support, empathy and compassion. Pull your friends and family in close in these times, celebrate life and struggle for freedom together.
- Cultivate feelings of love and friendship: Our greatest weapon against tyranny and the resulting demoralization therefrom is to deny the enemies of freedom the hatred that fuels and sustains their causes. By consciously, relentlessly and wholeheartedly practicing acts of love and kindness we will build a more peaceful, just and fair world. And until we get there, we’ll sustain our lives and the lives around us with this fire that can never be extinguished.