When questioned about the possibility of Donald Trump being elected as POTUS, many non-Trump voters expressed grave concerns for the future of America. I must admit, I was one of those voters. After the election, I found myself awake at 2 AM worrying (or being anxious) about the future of America and the World. This post is the result of that experience.
Anxiety is another word for worry.
Anxiety is the speeding thoughts, the churning stomach, and the inability to sleep because you are thinking about something that has happened, that is happening, or more likely, that might happen and your brain is trying to sort it all out and keeping you awake while it does this.
It is very important for you to to be able to identify that you are anxious as opposed to having a stomachache or just plain insomnia. Knowing how your body expresses anxiety will enable you to do this.
For me, anxiety presents as my stomach churning, a focusing of my thought/attention on a specific issue which gets replayed over and over. Sleep is elusive because my brain is churning. Your physical correlates might be different.
It is important to note that anxiety is always a future based emotion.
Anxiety is worrying about some outcome that hasn’t happened yet. If something has already occurred or is in the process of taking place, it is what it is. Your worry is about where it might go or what might happen as a result of what is going on. That is a future based concern about a current situation. Mr. Trump is the President-Elect. That is a fact.
As I mention in my book Emotions as Tools, the message of anxiety is: There MIGHT be a threat out there and that threat MIGHT kill me.
While the focus of your anxiety can be on anything, you can experience anxiety in two different forms. You can learn to master anxiety so that it doesn’t control you regardless of the form in which you experience it.
The most common type of anxiety is distress. This is the anxiety that keeps you up at night. It is worrying about an unwanted future outcome to which you react as if it were inevitable, you are unable to to prevent it, and its consequences to you will be disastrous.
Another way to look at distress is the process of catastrophising.
You catastrophise when you take an unwanted situation and project it into the future in its worst possible form and then react in the present as if this future outcome is inevitable.
As an example, when I was in college, a med student jumped off the roof of a building. He survived and when questioned about why he did it, he noted the he got a “D” in an Organic Chemistry class. The interviewer could not understand why one bad grade could lead to a suicide attempt and questioned the student further. The student’s reasoning was as follows:
- A “D” grade would keep him out of med school,
- if he could not get into med school, he would never be a Doctor
- If he could not be a Doctor, he would not be able to support a family
- If he could not support a family, he would be a failure
- Since he is a failure, he had no reason to live any longer (emphasis added)
- In summary, the “D” grade meant that he was a failure and his life, as a failure, was not worth living.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that the logic is flawed in that
- it leaves out a whole lot of other possibilities,
- it focuses on the worst possible outcome in each situation and
- it treats that outcome as if it is the only option.
The other face of anxiety is eustress.
Anxiety as eustress looks at a future outcome and uses the upcoming occurrence of that outcome as motivation to take appropriate action to change the nature of the future and thereby eliminate or minimize the occurrence of the unwanted consequences. When my students study for an upcoming exam about which they are anxious, this is using anxiety as eustress.
The antidote to the 2 AM anxiety based sleeplessness is as follows:
1.Correctly identify that you are anxious.
2.Identify the issue about which you are obsessing.
3.Evaluate and rate the probability of the the future outcome on a 0 to 10 scale with 0 = I can’t really say, 1 = highly unlikely and 10 = very likely.
4. Determine what other outcomes are possible besides the unwanted future you are thinking about. In other words, is a different future possible?
5.Identify if the anxiety is distress or eustress by assessing whether or not you can do anything to prepare for, minimize, or eliminate the undesired future outcome.
- if you can do something about it, then it is eustress.
- If you cannot do anything about it, it is distress.
6. Use the above information to make some choices all of which begin with the letter “D” which should eliminate the anxiety and let you go to sleep. The three choices involve…
- Deciding what you can do and writing down the steps you will later take
- Delegating by writing down who you need to contact for help or what new information you might need to get or
- Dismissing the situation and moving on because you can’t do anything about it.
The serenity “prayer” comes into play here and goes like this:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
The logic, behind this approach is this.:
- If you can’t identify, determine the probability of, or do anything to prevent or minimize the undesired outcome or you can’t identify any alternative futures, you are catastrophising, your thinking is flawed and you need to decide to Dismiss or let it go. With practice, you will learn to turn off the anxiety by focusing on the catastrophising process and realizing the futility of it.
- If you decide that an alternative future is possible, you can break the catastrophising process and the anxiety that goes with it by focusing on the possibility that another outcome is possible so you can wait and see how the future unfolds.
- If you can do something to eliminate or minimize the unwanted future outcome, you can Decide or Delegate and take some notes to remind you to go back to the issue at a future time. You can then let the anxiety dissipate and you can go to sleep.
- As you are not able to get to sleep anyway, so you might as well get up, get out a pad of paper, and take some notes. It may take you 20 to 30 minutes but you will be able to to back to sleep once it is completed. You are ahead of the game in the long run.
This process is not easy but it is doable with practice.
Oh, and about Donald Trump.. While my worries about future war, the uprising of Russia, China and Iran, and what can happen when an easily angered Narcissist gets real power are possible, it is also possible that Congress might unify, Trump might modify, and cooler heads might prevail. I’ll just have to wait and see.
I welcome your comments.