When Elisabeth LaMotte, LICSW, MSW, sat down with a patient in her Washington, DC, therapy office, she wasn’t surprised to learn the reason behind her patient’s unrest and fear: Trump Anxiety Disorder.
While not an official diagnosis, LaMotte often treats patients who are anxious about the country’s current political climate, and says the “collective anxiety” Americans are feeling stems from fear and frustration surrounding our political leadership. “There is a fear of the world ending,” LaMotte told CBC News Canada. “It’s very disorienting and constantly unsettling.”
“Trump Anxiety Disorder” is a term originally coined by clinical psychologist Jennifer Panning Psy.D., who co-edited a book by psychiatrists from Harvard Medical School and the Yale School of Medicine, listing the signs and characteristics of the new phenomenon. Separate from a generalized anxiety disorder, this term pinpoints the particular symptoms “specific to the election of Trump and the resultant unpredictable sociopolitical climate.” These include feelings of loss of control and helplessness, and even excessive time spent on on social media.
And the condition is on the rise — in both Trump supporters and detractors. The APA administered an online survey in 2017, finding that two-thirds of Americans, including Democrats and Republicans, confessed to feeling stressed about the future of the country. There has been a recorded rise in nationwide anxiety since Trump was elected in 2016, and according to the association, country-wide stress levels are higher than they’ve been in over a decade.
“Whether it’s conscious or not, I think we look to the president of the United States as a psychological parent,” explains LaMotte. For Trump supporters, LaMotte describes a recurring sense of “feeling socially or familially isolated” from those who don’t share their views. For Trump critics, she notes that their anxieties resemble those of patients raised by a parent with a personality disorder who would display traits like “grandiosity, excessive attention-seeking and severe lack of empathy.”
There’s no question our country is in a state of the unknown — a feeling that is often followed by panic, stress, worry, and fear. But in our age of outrage, there are steps we can take to do something meaningful with our frustration. “In our response lies our ability to create real change and impact,” writes Thrive founder and CEO Arianna Huffington, “And if we are serious, our response has to be not about venting but about outcomes.”
Whether we’re using our voices to change the composition of the House, encouraging friends and colleagues to vote, or calling local congressmen, there are ways to use our anxious energy for good. “Instead of getting depleted by living in a perpetual cycle of outrage at each new degradation of our country’s promise, let’s channel our energy,” Huffington writes. “Put that outrage to good use.”