A Survival Guide to the Trump Era: Embrace Uncertainty
A week before the inauguration of Donald Trump, I was on an airplane going to Florida. There was a tremendous amount of turbulence on the trip so I gripped both of my armrests tightly. As I braced myself, my body got very tense and I started feeling stressed and worried. It occurred to me after several minutes as my shoulders became tenser that it was ridiculous to hold my armrests for security — I was 30,000 feet in the air! I released my hands and placed them in my lap. I started just to breathe deeply. I slowly became calmer as I sought to let go of my fear. The turbulence lasted for most but not all of the flight. When we landed in Florida, it was 80 degrees, sunny and very pleasant.
I imagine many people can relate. The turbulence on the plane made me uncomfortable because it triggered feelings of uncertainty about my safety. In everyday life, many of us feel emotional turbulence when life is uncertain. We try to avoid these feelings by making careful decisions about our jobs, relationships and our kids. Even though intellectually we know certainty does not exist, we strive for it, trying to play it safe and taking solace in our decisions. But life is filled with unexpected events, and the minute something unforeseen happens, the uncertainty of the situation can activate fear and negativity about what might happen in the future.
This is one of the reasons why Donald Trump makes so many people uncomfortable. He brings our fear of uncertainty right in front of our noses every day. He brings us turbulence. Whether you like Donald Trump or not, he reminds us we have no idea what will happen tomorrow or even in the next minute.
Although I have had my moments, overall I have not felt much fear since the election of Donald Trump. I believe this is because I have spent much of the last decade of my life working on becoming comfortable with, and even comforted by the unknown. Not knowing the future is liberating and soothing because it reminds me, for example, that if I don’t like President Trump’s tweets or the decisions that he made today, there is still a possibility that things can change tomorrow and maybe get better! This approach to uncertainty does not make me complacent or foolish. Instead, it energizes me to take action and not be crippled by fear and worry.
Getting to this point of comfort has been a lengthy process for me. I’d love to share a bit of how I did it so Maybe you’ll get there sooner! So, in that spirit, here are a first few tips to survive this new age of uncertainty. May you find power and strength in the days ahead.
1. Breathe, breathe, and breathe some more. After you read something in the news or see something on television that upsets you, take a long breath in and out slowly. Repeat five times. You can never go wrong with this tactic. Deep breathing dissipates nervous energy from your mind. It slows your thoughts and allows you to see a situation more clearly, helping you become less reactive to the unexpected and more thoughtful about how you will respond.
2. Adopt a Mindset of Gratitude. You might wonder why gratitude is the second tip in this survival guide for uncertainty, but the mindset of gratitude is a wonderful, strong platform on which to stand when the ground feels a little shaky. The truth is that sometimes we are so busy thinking about what is wrong with ourselves, Donald Trump, and the world, that we forget to look at what is right in our lives. The fact is we still have a solid place on which to stand. When we are afraid of the unknown, we become fixed on what we don’t have, what doesn’t work and what can’t change. When we list those things for which we are grateful, we can see the things that have worked out in the past and the blessings that already exist in our lives. So, every morning when you wake up and at night before you go to sleep, make a list of everything that is working in your life. It could be your family, your health, your job, the Constitution, the court system or as simple as the last meal you ate. Yes, it can even be something that Donald Trump has done that you may like. Why do this? It is important for us to be completely honest about everything that is working in our lives. I like to think that this mindset helps us ground ourselves. It stops us from “filling our cups” with only negativity every day. Gratitude enables you to start each day with a good, solid perspective and helps you fall asleep at night. After all, we will all need our rest for the journey ahead!
3. Separate Fearful Projections from the Moment at Hand. Some people might argue that they live with fear and anxiety because of all the bad things Donald Trump has said and what these things may mean for the future of the country. Although Donald Trump has made dramatic executive orders in his first week in office, most of the anxiety and fear some of us feel is a projection of what these orders may mean for our future. You can argue about where these actions will lead, but until something actually happens that enforces them, you are putting your emotions ahead of future events. This is creates breeding ground for fear and worry, not a strong foundation for taking your own action. Of course, we can and must take action to protect our rights as women, minorities, citizens, and even non-citizens, but fear of what will be is just in our minds. The idea of what we think we know is crippling; in reality, the fact that we don’t know is liberating. It means outcomes other than those we fear most are possible. So, keep asking yourself, “What is happening in this moment? What are my emotions projecting into the future?” This practice will reduce your fear and worry. The present moment is where we are most powerful!
4. The Maybe Practice. Use the philosophy and the practice of Maybe to put a stop to negative projections, come back to the moment, and feel hopeful. I write my biggest fears down, like “The world is going down the tubes; we are no longer safe; and the environment will be destroyed.” Then I ask myself if I am absolutely certain these statements are true. If I am not absolutely certain these thoughts are true, I then ask myself, “What are the other possibilities?” I then take five to ten minutes and write Maybe statements on a piece of paper. These are statements such as, “MAYBE things will be okay,” “MAYBE things will be awful and then get better,” “MAYBE my actions can make a difference,” or “MAYBE there is still hope for something we cannot even imagine.” I then get very specific with action steps that seem like good ideas. Examples of these are: “Maybe I should start a political action group,” “Maybe I can help stop certain legislation from passing,” “Maybe I can sue the government” (the lawyer in me never quite rests!), or “Maybe I should go to a town hall meeting.” This “Maybe Mind” also leaves me very open to anything that Donald Trump might do that is positive, a possibility that exists to which I remain open. The truth is that we cannot see his entire presidency in this moment. If we stop projecting all the bad things that may happen, we will have more strength and vision to act. And even if some bad things do happen, the idea of Maybe will give us strength to figure out what we need to do next. The future contains infinite possibilities, both good and bad. But the fact that there are good possibilities should give you hope, strength and more ability to stay in the moment. Do not let fear overtake your emotions. Until our last breath, life has Maybe.
There is nothing “Pollyanna” about finding comfort in the unknown. Instead, doing so allows us to harness our strength and be completely honest in the moment. So stop looking for certainty and safety when there is none. Take a deep breath. Realize life has Maybe. And take action on issues you want to change. If something doesn’t go the way you plan, embrace Maybe and keep trying. You cannot know what the journey ahead of you will bring, and that’s a good thing right now. Should you buckle your seat belt? Absolutely. But do allow yourself to let go of those arm rests.
I’ll be back to check in with more travel tips for you next week!
Originally published at www.psychologytoday.com.