He creates huge amounts of stress. You know who we're talking about. It feels like nobody in history has ever received as much attention as him. In the morning, he clogs up your timeline before it’s even light outside. At bedtime, long after the sun has set, he pops up on our screens. He is trending every day, everywhere, on Twitter, on Facebook, in the news, at work, in our daily lives, at home, and now – and this is new – in the practices of many American psychotherapists.
Many in the U.S. are anxious. They aren't sleeping well, they are suffering from frequent headaches or stomach pains, they are nervous, suspicious and afraid. Why? Because of the new political reality. "There has been nothing like this," says William Doherty, who has been a therapist for 40 years. "Nothing close." Election results have always upset people, he says, especially those whose candidate lost. "But there was usually a buffer between the political and the personal for most Americans. We still slept at night." This time, it's different. And it isn't going away.
In August of 2016, a survey found that more than half of all US citizens (52 percent) found the presidential election campaign to be a significant source of stress. In the last 10 years, Americans have only ever become that nervous about jobs, money and the economy. Then he won the election in November and not her. So the American Psychological Association (APA) decided to ask again five months later. And this time, eight out of 10 U.S. citizens complained of psychological or physical stress symptoms. Or both.
He Triggers Fear, Whether He Means to or Not
"Our survey shows that stress levels have increased significantly for the first time in 10 years," says Katherine Nordal, APA's executive director for professional practice. Following the election, two out of three respondents expressed concern about the country's future. And more than half were stressed by the political climate, regardless of who they had voted for. "This is something we should be concerned about," says Nordal. "We know that persistent stress can have real health consequences." Malaise and uptightness over the long term can lead to anxiety disorders, insomnia and a weakened immune system. And that can ultimately pave the way for heart disease, obesity and depression.
But can one man really be responsible for all of that? "We have been hearing anecdotally from our member psychologists that many patients are bringing up their anxiety about the political environment in therapy sessions," says Nordal. Minorities, migrants, survivors of sexual violence, refugees and women in particular feel threatened, slighted, devalued, targeted or simply ignored by the U.S. president and his policies. The Stressed States of America, it would seem, are suffering from Trump-traumatic stress disorder.
"Of course, that is not a true psychiatric disorder," says Jennifer Sweeton, a clinical psychologist. "But it seems to resonate with many people who feel triggered and re-traumatized by some of the president’s decisions and behaviors." Sweeton works in the state of Missouri with survivors of sexual violence. It is extremely disturbing for her patients, she says, to see a man leading the country who many women have accused of sexual assault.
This man is triggering fear, whether he means to or not. Concerns over police brutality, for example, have risen within just a few months, no matter who you ask, whether it is Whites, Blacks, Hispanics or Asians. The U.S., a country of immigrants, is becoming increasingly xenophobic. Even U.S. citizens whose ancestors came to the country from all over the world are being told, or are receiving suggestions, that they should prepare for deportation.
The climate is even putting family cohesion to the test. Who voted for the man in the Oval Office? Who didn’t? "There are many that feel that their support system, as they knew it, has been fundamentally changed," says psychologist Angela Londoño-McConnell from the state of Georgia. "People seem to be looking at those they know and love and wondering if they really knew them and if they can trust them."