• Nancy Dafoe

Dealing with Collective Anxiety: Discovering the Dissectologist in Me


Stress builds and waits. It simmers until boiling insinuates but does not yet break surface, doing damage beneath the skin. Four years of living in our country under the Trump regime was stress and anxiety-inducing, even without the arrival of the Coronavirus COVID-19. The plague almost felt appropriate to describe our national scene except it infected people worldwide.


There was something Trump could have done to alleviate the damage, hold back the astronomical number of deaths in our country. He chose not to use a pandemic plan left by President Obama’s administration. Trump chose to lie about the severity of the virus even after being secretly briefed on the extreme dangers and realities. He chose to openly lie on social media and in public “press conferences.” Trump used his office to downplay COVID-19’s severity, leading to more deaths and deeper national divisions. The question of why could be variously answered, but the fact remains: he caused a far higher level of Americans’ COVID-19 deaths and greater stress that led to shortened lives. Then Trump chose to lie about an election he had lost, and the stress levels around the country rose higher.


Over the last few years, we have all looked for ways to help relieve that sense of urgency, of impending peril, of high anxiety brought on by the national chaos and deliberate cruelty directed from the White House, exacerbated by horrendous policy decisions coming out of the Trump administration.


The election of Joseph R. Biden, Jr. to the Presidency and Kamala Harris to the Vice Presidency have gone a long way toward healing our collective anxiety, but we have all tried to find ways to cope over these last few years in various ways. However joyous the Inauguration celebration of 2021, Trumpism, QAnon, GOP-election and truth deniers, Oath Keeper militants, angry militia groups threatening state houses as well as our Capitol, and science deniers are with us still, cultivated and brought out into the light by the Trump administration.


What to do about all that anxiety? As a writer, I write—blogs, poems, a memoir, vignettes, fragments and completed works. Even writing, however, was sometimes not enough to ease dangerous levels of anxiety, so I began constructing jigsaw puzzles. Starting with a 500-piece puzzle, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the act of working out a puzzle was soothing and, at the same time, mentally challenging. I quickly moved to 1,000-piece art puzzles, some so difficult that I wondered why I was attempting to reconstruct an image of a forest of identical trees broken into tiny parts. However, I recognized the process of deconstructing an image in order to reconstruct it is immensely distracting, engrossing, intriguing, and ultimately comforting. I also discovered that a person who loves doing jigsaw puzzles is called a dissectologist.

Eurographics puzzle of Jan Vermeer's "Girl with the Pearl Earring."


Everyone has her/his own methods of dealing with stress, many choosing physical exercise, many practicing yoga or another form of meditation. Millions of us became politically active in campaigns to elect better leaders or promote worthy causes. Whatever you do for your physical and mental health to reduce anxiety, find what works. Our mental and physical health may be subject to outside forces, but we are not powerless to reassert that control over our own minds and bodies.

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