Preventing anxiety disorders in the age of Trump (or at any time for that matter)

I'm trained in Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy developed by the late Dr. Albert Ellis. Tom's guest today said what I've been I’ve been saying for years. Millions of people are needlessly creating anxiety disorders in themselves. Millions were encourage to do just that by Trump before the election, and that's why they voted for him, and why those who didn't might be making themselves anxious. (Please note how I phrase that)

So I’d like to offer ways to stop doing that.

The first is called developing an internal locus of control. That means to recognize that it’s really what we choose to think about real or imagined events in our lives that causes how we feel, not the events themselves. Whatever way we choose to look at what happens or might is understandable given our life experiences and that we’re human, but we always have choices. There’s always more than on way to look at any event, and some will make us feel better, and others worse. Some will make it easier to deal with life, others harder.

The second is to recognize that anxiety is really a figment of imagination. It’s about things that could happen, but haven’t yet, and often never do.

That’s what Trump and Republicans do, and conservative talkers have been doing for decades. Present people with possibly but often usually unlikely scenarios. Yes, we could be killed by an Islamic terrorist, but it's still about as likely as being struck by lightning. In a moment, I'll share a simple but effective strategy based in this fact.

The third is to recognize that there’s a formula for anxiety. It’s CATASTROPHIZE + AWFULIZE. First we imagine something bad happening, and then we tell ourselves it would be awful if that did happen. If we said “So what, who cares?”, or "It wouldn't be the end of the world", we wouldn’t have anxiety.

Anxiety is half of our fight or flight response. The problem is that people too often needlessly plug themselves into it by they way they choose to look at things before, or after things happen. Many things in life are unpleasant, inconvenient or uncomfortable, but few of the things people choose to see as awful really are. So a simple but effective coping statement can be "It's not (wouldn't be) awful, it's just (just would be) unpleasan't".

Ultimately, it helps to recognize that anxiety comes from making demands of ourselves and life. There's nothing wrong with wanting life to be certain, predictable and safe. But by demanding it be, we make ourselves more likely to catastrophize, and then awfulize and generate anxiety.

I like to give people a THINK-FEEL-DO thermosat model to use. See the attached diagram. It helps them see where they are emotionally and behaviorally at any given moment, how their thinking puts them there, where they might want to be instead, and what it will take to get there cognitively.

We always have three basic choices. We can not care about something. We can want, prefer and desire it. Or, we can think we need it, it's a necessity in our lives, and demand it. Where we set our THINK thermostat determines where our FEEL, and ultimately our DO thermostat gets set. If we don't care about something, it's easy to stay calm. If we want life to be certain, predictable and safe, there's always the possibility it won't be, and we'll generate concern. But if we think life always needs to be certain, predictable and safe, oerhaps even in the same way we need air, water and food in our lives, we'll be more likely to think it'd be awful if it wasn't and generate anxiety. If we were suffocating, it would be awful. The greater the difference between our expectations and reality, the more emotion we'll generate. Shakespeare once said "Expectation is the root of all heartache". It's the root of anxiety as well.

The solution. We have every right to want, prefer or desire whatever we want, including for life to be certain, predictable and safe. But thinking it needs to be, and demanding that it be, just sets us up for needless anxiety. Life simply has never been, and never will be completely certain, predicatable or safe. Demanding that it be won't change that, and just makes us needlessly anxious in the meantime.

Based on all this, I offer something simple but highly effective that we can say to ourselves to short circuit anxiety. “That might happen, but it hasn’t happen yet. And if it does, we’ll deal with it. Just like others do, and just like we have other things in the past”.

All this said, there are many, many reasons to be concerned in the age of Trump. If our FEEL thermostat goes up to anxiety, that would be understandable, and part of being human. But it won't help, and could make our lives worse needlessly, and even cause us to start reacting to life instead of responding to it in the best possible way. That's exactly what Trump got millions of people to do with his fear mongering. Generating more emotion than is helpful or necessary can make otherwise smart people do stupid things. Voting for Trump was a perfect eample of this.

The Founders Created the Electoral College to Prevent a Foreign-Influenced Candidate From Winning - It Didn't Stop Trump, so Let's Scrap It

Thom plus logo It's time to take another step forward in fine-tuning our republic and abolish the Electoral College.

America's Founders and Framers thought they could use the Electoral College to prevent somebody like Donald Trump from ever becoming president. Unfortunately, they were wrong, and now we're paying the price.