One Nation Under Stress: The First 100+ Days

The day of Trump’s inauguration, my daughter’s fourth grade class watched the clock until it hit noon, when he took the oath of office. They thought something would happen when the world as they knew it changed. The country would fall apart as soon as he raised his hand. Or if we were lucky, we’d all be swept into an alternate universe where Obama was elected to a third term or the Twelfth Amendment, which created the Electoral College, had never been proposed.

What actually happened was this: The next day, we donned our pink pussy hats and marched with millions of other people. That unseasonably warm January day feels like a year ago, rather than just over 100 days.

Since the election, I’ve spent many nights lying in bed with my daughter comforting her about this presidency. She’s worried that Trump will deport her friends, get us into a war, destroy the environment, and generally ruin her country. I’ve told her that I am worried about those things too. I don’t lie to her. When she asked me point blank if Santa Claus was real, I had to tell her the truth. If I’m willing to kill Santa, I’ve got to be straight with her about the fact that Trump scares me.

But I also told her that, in reality, very little would change for people like us, firmly ensconced in the middle-class liberalism of New York City. And I believed that was true.

But as so often happens in my household, the ten-year-old was wiser than her mother.

After January 20, life did go on pretty much as before. The laundry had to be done. Dinner had to be cooked. Field trip permission slips had to be signed. Birthday parties, stomach flus, and spring break all had to be survived. But the New York State Standardized testing season arrived with less fanfare than usual and no protests. As much as I object to the testing, this year, I just didn’t feel up to the fight. There’s so much to fight for these days and so little time to fight it all.

Our life has changed.

It’s not just that I’ve marched in protests for the first time since the ’90s, written letters, called politicians, rejoined the ACLU, and become generally more politically active than at any other point in my life. I’ve started writing this blog. I almost couldn’t avoid it. I’ve started believing that what I do, say, and write matters. Much of this is positive. People across the country are engaged in the political process more passionately than I’ve ever witnessed.

But then there’s the stress. We’re all obsessed with the lightening speed of current events. It’s no longer a 24-hour news cycle. On some days, it feels more like a 4-hour news cycle that starts at a 3:00am with a tweet. Things are moving so fast that jokes can be stale by the time they hit the late-night talk shows. On a daily basis, I’m amused and vindicated by narcissistic pronouncements, and I’m crushed and terrified by the executive orders attempting to wipe out Obama’s hard work and appointments aimed a dismantling much of the good government does. It’s a rare day when I don’t have a conversation that lapses into politics.

I’ve never felt more outright hatred in my life. I remember having a visceral reaction to W’s voice every time I heard it. I never thought it could get worse than that, but I was wrong. Trump makes my skin crawl. I find myself saying, “I hate these people.” It feels horrible. The anxiety creeps across my shoulders and collapses around my throat almost every day.

And I’m not alone. Two-thirds of Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, are stressed about the future of our country, according to a recent report by the American Psychological Association (APA):

“The stress we’re seeing around political issues is deeply concerning, because it’s hard for Americans to get away from it,” said Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, APA’s executive director for professional practice. “We’re surrounded by conversations, news, and social media that constantly remind us of the issues that are stressing us the most.”

Democrats are more likely to be upset about the 2016 election results than Republicans (72% vs. 26%). But over all, we’re worried about where of our country is headed–and it may be affecting our health. Six months ago, 71% of Americans reported physical problems caused by stress (headaches, depression, nervousness, etc.). Today, that number has jumped to 80%. In my case, I’ve also noticed an increase in stress eating.

“For many, the transition of power and the speed of change can cause uncertainty and feelings of stress, and that stress can have health consequences. If the 24-hour news cycle is causing you stress, limit your media consumption,” said Nordal. “Read enough to stay informed but then plan activities that give you a regular break from the issues and the stress they might cause. And remember to take care of yourself and pay attention to other areas of your life.”

I’m trying to manage it. I’ve cut down on the amount of news that comes into the house. Mornings are no longer narrated NPR. Instead, it’s music from WFUV. But I may have gone too far. Lately, my daughter and I have had a looming feeling that we’re missing things. If I don’t hear about a major news story, I suddenly feel lost and scared. My new plan is to monitor the news we consume for quality, as opposed to quantity. No more clicking on far left blogs posted by friends on Facebook. No more press conferences. No more pouring over the worried emails flooding into my inbox. I’ve been unsubscribing whenever I have the time.

We’ve started having the New York Times delivered again at my daughter’s request. She’s told me, I can remove anything I think is “inappropriate.” Since the rule in our house is always to be safe and kind, much of what is reported about the President of the United States is “inappropriate” for my daughter – and for me.


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Maud Kersnowski Sachs

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