This article was originally published in the September 2017 Princeton Echo.
Donald Trump may be bad news for diplomats, Democrats, and much of the world, but he is good news for psychotherapists, fitness instructors, and diet gurus.
Thanks to Trump-induced stress alone, many Americans have bumped up several clothing sizes in the past six months. Just as the “freshmen 15” commemorates the 15 pounds that anxious students pack on from the pasta, pizza, and snacks they compulsively consume in their first year of college — here at Princeton University there is an unlimited meal plan so students can binge all day — we can now similarly christen the “Trump 10” many Americans now carry with them. It shows no signs of disappearing. Each psychodrama in Washington sends more millions looking for quick comfort in a double cheeseburger or a pizza with extra pepperoni.
But it’s becoming harder and harder to eat as fast as the stress is being generated. Journalists yearn for the time that the news cycle was a leisurely 24 hours. Late-night TV hosts find that their jokes have a half-life of about a half-hour — not enough time for their viewers to dash to the kitchen for a late-night snack. At every new and unimaginable low point, many Americans seek to dull their shock in the refrigerator, where a bucket of ice cream is waiting.
A therapist friend points out that the American jitters are sweeping across the land. Mental health professionals can barely keep up with the burgeoning demand. “In this situation, many patients feel like a child living with an unpredictable and malevolent parent,” she says. “In that situation, they do not dare to go to sleep. Trying to keep control creates stress that leads to fear, sleep deprivation, alcohol consumption, smoking, and poor nutrition.”
It is hard to escape the compulsion to keep checking on this erratic parent. Regularly I wake up early to read the latest news headlines, and my friends do the same. Have you read the latest tweet? Do I dare to turn on CNN and risk my peace of mind?
If it’s any consolation, the President also suffers from stress. According to news reports, he has gained his own Trump 10 since inauguration day. There must be the necessary snacks for him in the White House kitchen. And at lunch he gets two scoops of ice cream while everyone else makes do with one — the exclusive perk for the most powerful man in the world. If I see him fill up again, I wonder how long his heart will last. He is already the oldest man to be inaugurated as president.
But I have to worry about myself now. Our family has taken some radical measures: 10 ways to defeat the Trump 10. On the fridge door we have pasted a photo of a golfing Trump in too-tight pants. We serve only one scoop of ice cream at a time. No steaks. No wine. No cable TV. No Twitter. Check your favorite news site no more than once a day. If the stress runs high, think of Obama — take your choice of Barack or Michelle. Avoid at all times the T-word. And, above all, focus your attention on the year 2020 and beyond.
I will let you know when my Trump 10 is history.
Pia de Jong is a Dutch writer who lives in Princeton. Her bestselling memoir, “Charlotte,” was published in July in the U.S. She can be contacted at piadejong.com.