Is It Valid to Feel Fear and Anxiety After Trump’s Election?

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

The unthinkable has happened: Donald Trump has been elected president. I am reeling from the shock of this, scared of what this means for me and my family (I am a queer black woman), and anxious about how Trump’s presidency will affect the world at large. I understand that political campaigns tend to be ugly by nature, but his rhetoric leading up to the election was sharply divisive, mean-spirited, and bullying. If he acts on what he has promised, my civil rights (and the civil rights of others I care about) are threatened. I also worry for the stability of the planet. I am having a very hard time with this, and I think we’re in for a very long and difficult four years.

I know he has his supporters, and I know a lot of people think many of the things he has promised won’t actually happen, but I am not convinced. Nothing he has said or done has given me confidence that he will change his tune as president. And even if he does, I am not sure I will believe him. I know a lot of people who are like me—very frightened, very upset, and very discouraged. I am trying to tell myself that it will all be okay, that nothing will really change and it’s not worth getting worked up over, but I can’t escape this feeling of dread. It’s dragging me down to the point I can feel depression setting in (I have been there before). Even my faith in the basic goodness of people is dwindling.

I don’t like this feeling. I want to feel hopeful and optimistic again. I don’t want to live scared. I want to feel like I belong in my own country, and I don’t feel that way right now. Am I overreacting here, or is there any validity to what I am feeling? Thank you for your time. —Forlorn in the USA

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Dear Forlorn,

Thank you for reaching out. As I am sure you have gathered from news reports, social media, or other sources, you are far from alone in your feelings. Some of the concerns you expressed have been heard in therapy rooms across the country since the election (and before it, anticipating this possible outcome).

Setting aside the politics, let me start by letting you know that your feelings are valid, whatever they may be. Although some people may try to tell you that your experience isn’t what it is, that your worries are unfounded, or that you’re overreacting, the truth is your feelings are valid because they exist. They need no explaining, justification, or validation—they simply are, and they are okay. Fears don’t have to be realized to be real.

Speaking of real, the reality is none of us knows what changes might be coming our way as a result of the election. We have no idea if our worst-case fears will be confirmed or if we will look back on this time and laugh at our responses, as many people did after Y2K. There is the possibility life as we know it will be radically altered, and there is also the possibility nothing notable will change. The truth may be somewhere in between, but again, who knows? What I do know is it’s understandable and common for uncertainty to stir anxious feelings.

We have no idea if our worst-case fears will be confirmed or if we will look back on this time and laugh at our responses, as many people did after Y2K. There is the possibility life as we know it will be radically altered, and there is also the possibility nothing notable will change. The truth may be somewhere in between, but again, who knows? What I do know is it’s understandable and common for uncertainty to stir anxious feelings.

However, that is not unlike daily life because the things many of us take for granted—such as our health or physical mobility, the well-being of our families, and the stability of our work—are never guaranteed. We could encounter tragedy at any moment in our lives because that is the nature of existence.

With that awareness, we can look at the things we can control—our responses and our choices. We may not have direct power over laws that may be passed or repealed, but we do have power over how we engage in the process. We can take purposeful action to bring awareness and perhaps change to the causes we care about. We can choose to acknowledge and feel our feelings, let them pass through us, and then decide how to go forward. We can feel fear and worry and choose not to be paralyzed by them, but rather transform those feelings into motivation.

Many people are feeling as you seem to be feeling—hopeless, powerless, and alone. In times when I feel that way, I draw encouragement from an unlikely source, Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, who once said that when he was a child and afraid, his mother told him to “look for the helpers.” There are always helpers, and in the aftermath of the election we have seen a mobilization of helpers across the country that has opened hearts and minds to the reality that no one is in this alone. Although you feel a sense of dread and depression setting in, I encourage you to actively counter its progression by looking for the helpers. Find support in your community; just this past weekend alone, I saw hundreds of thousands of people rallying, marching, and standing in solidarity, drawing comfort, energy, and motivation from each other. Consider getting involved with efforts you see near you, and allow yourself to be supported by others who can hold you up when you feel weak (and for whom you can do the same).

If your feelings are unmanageable, please reach out to a therapist in your area who can help support you. Again, you need not experience this alone, not with so many helpers out there with similar values and concerns. Difficult as it may be, I encourage you to try not to lose faith in humanity because there are many people in this world who want you to feel supported, heard, understood, welcome, and safe.

With hope and love,

Lisa

Lisa Vallejos
Lisa Vallejos, PhD, LPC, specializes in existential psychology. Her primary focus is helping people to be more present in their lives, more engaged with their existence, and to face the world with courage. Lisa began her career in the mental health field working in residential treatment, community mental health centers, and with adjudicated individuals before moving into private practice. She is in the process of finishing a PhD as well as advanced training in existential-humanistic psychotherapy, and provides clinical training and supervision.
  • 8 comments
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  • Grace

    Grace

    November 18th, 2016 at 11:33 AM

    I don’t think that this is a place where anyone would ever say that one’s thoughts and feelings are not valid.
    I think that here you will find nothing but kindness and support, things that we all can use a little of from time to time.

  • Keith

    Keith

    November 20th, 2016 at 7:10 AM

    You hear the rhetoric and you can easily see how there are many demographics who do not feel like thier needs and their rights are either going to be respected or honored. I can see how there would be those who feel like they have been left out of the discussion and there will also be those who think that this is only a winning situation for them. I think that we all need to take a slight step back and see how others are being hurt by some of the discussions that are being led and see if there are ways that we can instead have the conversation focus on areas that could feel more inclusive to others and not like they are being shamed and left out.

  • tess

    tess

    November 21st, 2016 at 2:50 PM

    At this point it feels like it all depends on what side you are on.
    If you are on his side then you will be fine.
    If you dare to speak out against him then yeah, there would be some fear and anxiety.
    Sort of goes against everything that I have always believed that the USA stood for, but hey, maybe I am the one who is delusional now.

  • Nellie

    Nellie

    November 23rd, 2016 at 9:24 AM

    I look around me and see all of the things that are happening and I wonder how in the world we got to this point. It feels surreal, like this cannot be happening and yet it is.

    HRC got almost 2 million more votes than Trump and she is not our president elect. He is appointing those who are even further to the right than he is, or they have no experience in the cabinet areas which they have been appointed, and truthfully, I am scared of what the USA will be after he is finished with it.

    So yeah, for me the fear feels like a pretty valid thing.

  • Jan

    Jan

    November 25th, 2016 at 7:05 AM

    nah we’ve lived through worse.
    hoover anyone?
    well most of us alive today didn’t live through that, but it’s been done and four years is nothing in the whole scheme of things, let’s just hope that it goes quickly

  • Nan

    Nan

    November 26th, 2016 at 10:55 AM

    I hear that there are some pretty strong voices pushing for a recount so…

  • george

    george

    November 27th, 2016 at 1:24 PM

    Look, our founding fathers had it right when they wrote the constitution and did not place too much power in the hands of a y of the branches of government. This is called checks and balances, and regardless of what person is in the executive they will always have to answer to the other two branches. Somehow someway it always works itself out.

  • Nelson

    Nelson

    November 30th, 2016 at 10:28 AM

    I happen to think that he is going to make a good president. I think that he is going to try some things that may not have been tried before and do things a little differently, but that is what we all professed to want so why not give him the same chance to succeed that every other president has been given?

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