By JULIE BECK
Collective trauma is “a shared experience of threat and anxiety in response to sudden or ongoing events that lead to some threat to a basic sense of belonging in society,” says Jack Saul, the director of the International Trauma Studies Program. “It usually is a disruption to the social and moral order.”
One could argue that those who opposed Donald Trump’s election have been through a collective trauma that has left them feeling rattled and afraid. Women and people of color have good reason to be anxious, given the sexist and racist things Trump said during the campaign, given his threats against the women who accused him of sexual assault, given how he has painted Mexicans as criminals, given that he was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, given so, so many things.
People have very real fears rooted in policies Trump has promised to enact in office — including a ban on Muslim immigrants and the deportation of millions of immigrants.
It’s more than plausible to interpret the election of someone who openly espouses such views to the nation’s highest office as a disruption of the social and moral order.
Mary McNaughton-Cassill, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at San Antonio, says she wouldn’t quite call the election a collective trauma for the anti-Trump set, but she thinks they are going through the stages of grief. “Both denial and anger—and we know that you don’t go through those stages step by step anymore,” she says. “They get mixed up.”
McNaughton-Cassill studies stress management and emotional distress, and while she’s looked more at disasters like 9/11 than political outcomes, her research suggests that a shocking event like this isn’t likely to plunge people into a long-term depression.
“I did not ﬁnd that 9/11 made people clinically depressed or anxious, who were not [already] depressed or anxious,” she says. “It affected mood, it didn’t affect mental health.”
To take care of themselves and improve their mood after the election, there are all kinds of things people can do, from deep breathing to listening to music to reading poetry to playing sports to walking in nature.
Of course, it’s important to take care of your basic health needs—hydrating, eating well, getting enough sleep and physical activity. But Saul thinks that “the problem has been that there’s been so much focus on self-care that it’s become the primary focus,” when actually, relying solely on yourself after a collective trauma is probably the worst thing one could do.
At an individual level, people can check in on their families, friends, and coworkers, to see how they’re doing, and host gatherings or create opportunities for people to socialize and be together. They can donate or help organize or volunteer at charities, organizations, or religious groups that work in their cities and neighborhoods, though Saul writes in a forthcoming paper that to promote “community resilience,” it’s important “to work with change agents or ‘links’ from within a community because of their greater access to local knowledge and understanding of members’ needs and preferred coping strategies.”
Ultimately, taking action is likely the biggest thing people can do to combat the anxiety and fear they may feel while waiting for Trump’s inauguration, and after.
“I think that picking a cause that you think may be threatened and getting involved will be a way to feel like you’re not just watching bad things happen,” McNaughton-Cassill says.
For those who anticipate hardship, taking this election as a call to arms could help them cope.
“I think probably a lot of people in this country take democracy for granted,” McNaughton-Cassill says. “It might be a time [now] where if you want to really stand up for something you might have to do more than just donate a little bit of money. I don’t know if I think that’s horribly bad.”
A longer version of this article appeared in The Atlantic.