How I (sort of) coped with Trump’s election

The sun was shining, birds were singing, children were playing. All was right with the world… and then I flicked on the news. The next moment my mind was blown. A powerful whirlwind of thoughts and emotions were sent spinning through my head. This was incomprehensible, unfathomable. This couldn’t really be happening. Could it?

Trump had been elected. Many millions of people had voted to make my biggest, scariest, weirdest nightmare come true. To deal with this I was going to need every resilience strategy I had.

1. I named my emotions

When experiencing intense emotions it is helpful to take a moment to register what they are. I was feeling shock, incredulity, anger, frustration, confusion, disappointment and a sense of impending doom. These emotions were intense. Blankly I stared at the TV, feeling slightly nauseous, continually mouthing the words “what the ….?”

From the explosion of activity on social media, it was apparent many people around the world were experiencing similar emotional responses. Of course, not everyone felt the same. For passionate Trump supporters the news was bringing elation, excitement, hope and an overwhelming urge to shower the great American sky with celebratory gunfire.

2. I checked in with my values

Each of us has our own values and mine just happen to clash strongly with much of what Donald Trump represents. So, what exactly was it that was bringing up such an intense emotional response?

It turns out there were more values responsible than I can reasonably list in an article. Among them were that I despise bullying. I believe it’s sadly unevolved behaviour to degrade women or denigrate anyone based on their race, religion or sexual orientation. I also value fairness and think there is something morally bankrupt about a billionaire swanning about in a gaudy golden penthouse, whilst workers and taxes go unpaid.

Checking in with my values made me feel a little better. While it didn’t make these emotions instantly go away, I at least had the consolation of knowing I was having a normal human response to things I cared about.

3. I practised a little mindfulness

After watching more news than anyone really should, I decided to take a mindful moment by switching off the TV and returning my focus to the present moment. The sun was still shining. The birds were still singing. One of the kids outside was whacking another kid with a stick… but I refused to see this as an omen.

Unfortunately this mindful state lasted a pathetically shorty time. Quickly I began catastrophising. The thoughts were racing through my head. “I don’t trust this man to be in control of a hair dryer. What the hell is he going to do with the world’s biggest economy, the world’s biggest military and the launch codes for a couple thousand nuclear weapons? How long do we even have left? It’s going to be Trumpageddon!”

4. I took perspective

The imminent end of the world was actually fairly unlikely. I probably didn’t need to rush out the door to panic-buy bottled water, tinned food and batteries. In fact, over here on the other side of the world, my life would probably go on relatively unchanged. Whatever did happen was also completely outside my sphere of influence. All that catastrophising would only lead to a lot more needless stress and worry.

5. I reached out

I decided to pick up the phone and call a good mate. It turns out he was experiencing a similar response of bewilderment and revulsion. Together we tried to rationalise and comprehend Trump’s election. When we couldn’t quite manage that, we tried to amuse each other with black humour. He asked me who I thought would follow Trump as President. I suggested Lance Armstrong. He suggested the guy who shot Cecil the lion. For a while we laughed and the gloom lifted. Then he changed the topic to the state of the Australian cricket team and it all started to get a bit dark again.

6. I took a walk

During times when I am feeling a bit prickly and wound up I like to get out of the house, leave the phone behind and head down to the park. On this particular walk a number of rainbow lorikeets flashed past me. These colourful creatures all seemed quite unconcerned with Trump’s election. Then a dog came up and licked me. It too seemed unconcerned with Trump’s election. I walked to the water’s edge and saw a whole lot of little fish just being fish and not really worrying about much about anything at all. I spent a long time dazing at those fish and for a short while I forgot about the whole Trump thing.

7. I tried something really difficult

In my mind I had built up a vision of Donald Trump as some sort of crazed Godzilla figure, who fuelled by money, power and pure narcissism, was set to wreak havoc and trample everything in his path. But somewhere deep beneath all of that bluster and spray tan, I realised that there is a real human being. He may be flawed, but aren’t we all? Over the next four years this human being is going to have to deal with enormous pressures, make all sorts of difficult decisions and contend with a great deal of anger and hate being channelled in his direction. Instead of directing more anger and hate toward him, I needed to find a little compassion for this fellow human being. Doing this wasn’t at all easy, but it did leave me feeling a little calmer and more hopeful.

While I am still not overjoyed by the prospect of Donald Trump becoming the most powerful person in the world, by putting into practice a few different resilience strategies I have managed to cope with the shock and muddle through fairly well. Of course, I don’t live in America and am not quite as evolved as the Dalai Lama. I haven’t mastered mindfulness; my reactive mind can still run amok and I clearly have much more work to do to become less cynical and more compassionate. It is however reassuring to have learnt a few strategies which I can apply (no matter how imperfectly) the next time I switch on the news and it fills me with outrage.