How to Combat Political Anxiety and Foster Emotional Well-Being for Children and Adults

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My experience as a psychoanalyst for decades is that not only my anxious adult and child patients but also the larger population has become so anxious about the political climate today that it is interfering with their ability to make clear-headed decisions at home, in relationships, and at work.

This decline in effective thinking mars emotional stability and affects well-being. It is too soon for research to be done comparing pre-and post-election anxiety levels (Pew Research hasn’t caught up to 2016), but the prevailing doubts are precisely what produces anxiety.

According to a column in the Wall Street Journal pre-election Sept. 7, 2016 Taranto noted the panic people were feeling: “Don’t Panic, Democrats, Hillary Clinton Will Beat Donald Trump” (LA Times, June 6); “GOP Reaches ‘New Level of Panic’ Over Trump’s Candidacy” (Washington Post, Aug 3); “The Sanders Panic” (Wall Street Journal, May 20); “The Trump Panic” (Wall Street Journal, Aug. 9).

This was the emotional setting before the election. In my practice I heard words from children mimicking their parents with words about both candidates such as “killer” and “dangerous.” We all heard on the news these words: “liar,” “crooked,” “impulsive,” “fascist” and so on.

Post-election there is more civility but distrust is pervasive. Many adults report feeling “deeply sad” as well as “on edge.” Few seem hopeful.

How to Combat Anxiety in Children and Adults and Produce Positive Emotional Stability

One way to combat anxiety is by taking progressive actions to deliberate on issues that are personally important. Constructive activity, not passivity curbs anxiety appreciably at home, in relationships, and at work. Here are examples that have come to my attention:

Adults Putting Knowledge into Action

1. Working women feeling complicit when hearing crude statements about females by men have begun to voice their feelings about physical and verbal impropriety. There is a new courage to be assertive when learning about women being maltreated by men rather than placing the fear of potential consequences as a priority.

2. Grassroots organizations are cropping up organizing efforts to research issues such as equal pay for equal work, $15 minimum wage, homelessness, and other humanistic topics.

Parents Putting Their Knowledge into Action

1. Parents and teachers are encouraged to teach kids to have complex thinking skills. An elementary school in NYC prizes their curriculum on teaching first graders to learn to agree and disagree.

2. In high schools, teenagers are encouraged to learn reasoning skills: negotiation, tolerance of diversity, collaboration.

3. Parents are using language in their daily lives with kids such as compromise and collaboration.

3. Parents learn to step back and study their kids’ behavioral patterns rather than impulsively reacting with consequences kids don’t understand that don’t end up teaching the hoped for lessons.

4. How do you react to a puzzling behavior before you understand it? Problem solving over time rather than immediate reactions are counter-intuitive to many families but this is changing.

5. When parents voice an opinion they back it up with facts, so kids learn to do the same. (“Brush your teeth, so they are healthy” “Begin a long term project early, so you don’t worry the day before.”)

6. We must teach our children to think with complexity. Once children are teenagers with abstract thinking we can encourage them to research a topic, not draw quick conclusions about something they hear on social media or on the news.

7. We can discuss their social life so they learn about loyalty, trust, and raise their self-confidence.

Now that the election has produced contradictory results with the electoral college choosing one candidate and the popular vote choosing another the nation is divided. Only with reduced anxiety and emotional stability will we move forward to protect our citizens including our children.

I will close from a quote from my millennial son, Richard Hollman, who speaks of a false kind of certitude that only raises anxiety:

“America seems to be in a period of political dogma, a place where certitude is more important than nuance and understanding.” This certainty “is masqueraded as strength but it really comes out of ignorance and fear. I think that we can argue that parents fighting with a child letting their ego get involved, are doing so out of fear of the unknown, unconsciously using a survival reflex, defending themselves unnecessarily. The only thing that can combat fear is knowledge…understanding what’s happening in someone else’s mind…If people were encouraged to understand one another before reflexively trying to defend themselves, if trying to empathize and know others’ minds was seen as a strength, we’d live in a more compassionate, if not more efficient, society.” (Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior, 2015, Laurie Hollman, Ph.D.).

About the Author

Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst with specialized clinical training in infant-parent, child, adolescent, and adult psychotherapy. She has been on the faculties of New York University and the Society for Psychoanalytic Study and Research, among others. She has written extensively on parenting for various publications, including the Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, The International Journal of Infant Observation, The Inner World of the Mother, Newsday’s Parents & Children Magazine, Long Island Parent (NY). She also wrote her popular column, PARENTAL INTELLIGENCE, at Moms Magazine and has been a parenting expert for numerous publications such as Good Housekeeping and Bustle Lifestyle. She currently writes for Active Family Magazine (San Francisco) and blogs for Huffington Post. Her recent book is Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior. To learn more go to Dr. Hollman’s website: lauriehollmanphd.com.