The Trump victory, for many, was a punch in the belly. It now looks like bullies win, that anger and ignorance and intolerance are in charge.
Reactions to Donald Trump highlight a dilemma we often face. Life sends curve-balls. Is there a way to deal with overwhelming emotion? Is there a healthy way to manage your response to events you can’t control?
The best revenge also happens to be the best defense: equanimity. That is, to stay being engaged while becoming untroubled.
I learned this in the early months of my own divorce, when impotent anger and anxiety made me feel like a cornered animal ready to win at all costs. That pain guided me to my yoga mat in search of relief.
Physical postures and breath-work provided an answer unavailable to my conscious intellect. Concentration on poses calmed my brain. They didn’t fix the external problem, but quieted the internal one.
Neuroscientists describe equanimity as a detached state of mind in which “you have a kind of space around experiences, a buffer between you and [your] feelings.” (Rick Hanson PH.D., Buddha’s Brain, p 111)
Relaxed awareness should not be mistaken for aloofness. “Equanimity is neither apathy nor indifference: you are warmly engaged with the world but not troubled by it.” (Ibid) Acquiring equanimity doesn’t rid you of emotion or suppress it.
However, brain scans show that during a meditation or yoga practice you remain as fully aware of emotional impulses as ever, but your nervous system doesn’t get triggered into the hyper arousal of fight-or-flight. Instead you remain clear-headed.
Equanimity allows attentiveness without the distortion that comes from being emotionally triggered.
So what will you do? Are you going to dwell on Trump and remain upset? Will you get triggered when a dominating person next steps into your life? Do you want to be a role model for your kids? Your best response, always, is to practice equanimity.
If you plan to be an activist, fighting against ignorance and intolerance, you will be more effective (not to mention healthier and happier) if you are calm and clearheaded.
So where do you begin if you find yourself in an extreme state of agitation about the state of the world since Trump’s election? Here are a few things you can try:
Begin a mindfulness ritual. Even if you’ve never meditated or done yoga before, now is a great time to start. Try the meditation app Headspace and spend 10 minute each morning following a guided meditation journey for beginners. Or find a series of a series of restorative yoga poses on YouTube and give those a try. Some helpful ones can also be found in my book The Yoga of Divorce.
Turn your frustration into concrete action. You may be powerless to do anything about who Trump selects for his cabinet, but you can join an advocacy group to draw attention to the issues that matter most to you. You can also leverage your worry for good by devoting some of your time — face-to-face — to helping those in need. You might volunteer in a soup kitchen or help an immigrant family to get settled, for example.
Spend some time outdoors. When it feels like the world has gone crazy, a walk in the woods — or even around the block — can help to shift your mood and remind you that there is more to life than what’s playing out in the news.
If you need more, get in touch. At my practice, Reflective Mediation, we offer mindfulness training and other stress-reduction practices that have been scientifically proven to rewire the nervous system. We teach easy-to-learn exercises that can calm emotions, and it’s okay to need a little help with your mental wellness when you’re in distress.