Coping with the End of the World

Submitted anonymously

The day after Trump was elected President, news reports circulated images of young people at college campuses gathering to cry and mourn together. At these “cry-ins” or “self-care events,” students reportedly colored in coloring books, played with play-doh, met with therapy dogs, drank hot chocolate, and of course, cried together. These stories were met with ridicule, supposedly showcasing the oversensitive millennial generation as a bunch of snowflakes who can’t handle the world. But just like how, to Baudrillard, the existence of the uber-commercialized and artificial Disneyland gives cover to the rest of society pretending not to be both already, these spectacular stories of human coping hide the fact that society is already coping all the time.

To cope means to deal with something with some degree of success. When faced with a situation that is unalterable, it is a workaround or sidestep. Since you cannot change it, you try to figure out a way to handle it. In the 20th century, revolutionaries faced the miserable world with hope to transform it into something better, which guided their actions and ways of living. But in present day, a revolution seems less possible, and hopelessness is spreading. Every day is a new disaster: environmental catastrophe, war and the threat of nuclear winter, daily random mass shootings, Nazis killing people and trying to gain power, and the arrival of an Orwellian techno-future. These horrors compound ongoing miseries of daily life under capitalism: hunger, boredom, humiliation, exploitation, isolation, violence, oppression, alienation, etc. Since it seems like we can’t change these realities, we try to cope with them.

Coping with our minds

Mindfulness is a Buddhist practice that has recently become popular within the field of psychology. It involves adopting a quasi-meditative mindset throughout daily life to non-judgmentally notice toxic thoughts. Seeing these thoughts for what they are supposedly lessens their ability to exacerbate neurosis and anxiety. This practice contrasts with psychoanalysis and other schools of psychology in discarding the role of the therapist as an expert of the mind, who tries to “fix” the patient by uncovering latent secrets buried within their psyche. Mindfulness never aims to “cure”, but rather offers an ongoing strategy for dealing with anxiety and toxic thoughts. In other words, it is a coping strategy that’s become popular due to an increasingly anxiety-producing world. It’s not the only one.

Psychiatry, a sister discipline to psychology that includes its practitioners prescribing anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications, adopts the same approach. It never tries to cure someone of depression or anxiety, but instead aims to assist the patient in getting through daily life. Like mindfulness, it is a coping mechanism that can be useful to people. Both are in prominence right now because they level people out enough to enable them to be productive members of society. Someone who cannot get out of bed in the morning won’t be able to produce value at work or through whatever role they are assigned in capitalist society.

Coping through drugs

The number of people addicted to opioids have increased drastically in the last decade, including over double the amount of heroin users in the US from 2002 to 2016. [1] The Opioid Crisis is largely a result of over-prescription of painkillers for severe and chronic pain. These painkillers are addictive, and 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed them admit to misusing them. [2] When the prescription runs out, or when a tolerance is built-up to the drug’s effects, many begin using heroin or other illegal opioids. Chronic means “continuing or occurring again and again for a long time,” implying that it probably won’t going away permanently. Taking painkillers then is a way of coping, of constantly battling a condition that isn’t being fixed for whatever reason.

The most common reported type of chronic pain is low back pain, [3] which has a number of different causes. But it’s likely that the prevalence of this kind of pain has actually increased over time. A study done in North Carolina shows that the proportion of people suffering from long-term, low back pain has more than doubled between the early ‘90s and 2009. [4] Clearly something about this society and form of life is causing people to feel more chronic pain, which they then cope with by taking painkillers.

Habitual use of any drug can be read as a coping mechanism. 55 million people in the US used weed within the last year, and 35 million do on a monthly basis. 52% who used marijuana come from millennial generation. [5] Weed lowers your standards, it makes boring things fun. A stupid show on Netflix becomes entertaining, the toxic parts of a relationship are de-emphasized over the presence of a warm body to cuddle with, and emotions are dulled to the point of being manageable or ignorable. While drug use can provide interesting experiences, habitual use is clearly a way of coping with a boring and stressful world as well as putting off dealing with ongoing problems in life. Since under late capitalism the world cannot be acclimated to the needs of the body, with weed the body adjusts itself to acclimate to the world: a boring, despair-inducing, and stressful one at best.

Radical Self-care

The idea of “radical self-care” has become popular through Tumblr and online social justice circles in recent years. Rejecting notions of mandatory productivity and its related shame, radical self-care rhetoric preaches that people should do whatever they need to do to get through the day. The examples given usually seem to be indulgent forms of consumption: eat a whole pizza, binge-watch a mindless series, stay in bed all day if you need to. That radical self-care often translates into indulging in consuming commodities is a stellar example of capitalism preying on people’s vulnerabilities.

The rhetoric around radical self-care goes something like: “whatever you need to do to cope, do it. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel bad for how you cope with the world.” What’s striking about this is how identical it is to a popular sentiment in prison: Whatever you have to do to do your time, do it. A thoughtful and multifaceted analysis of radical self-care has already been made [6], but what’s apparent here is that it is a synonym for coping.

Sadvertising & Sentimentality in advertising and culture

Marketing and PR executives are tasked with creating propaganda content for their brands, products, and organizations, which requires them to study social trends and know the pulse of the public. In the last few years there was a trend in advertising dubbed “sadvertising,” where ads consisted of sentimental and emotionally moving stories, often unrelated to the products being marketed. William Gelner, former chief creative officer of the marketing agency 180LA, attributes this trend to the fact that: “…we live such digitally switched-on, always-plugged-in lives, and yet we still also somehow feel disconnected from people. As human beings, we’re looking for human connection, and I think that emotional storytelling can help bridge that gap.” [7] But at the end of 2016, after both Brexit and Trump’s election, the mood of holiday advertising quickly changed. An article published by a website for Association Executives:

“Last year’s tear jerking sentimental ads have been replaced with trampolining animals, courtesy of John Lewis, and a shift from sentimental wallowing – ‘sadvertising’ – to a healthy injection of light relief and laughter. Maybe the prospect of Brexit and Trump was simply more than most of us could deal with!  When it comes to communications it’s definitely crucial to have an accurate appreciation of the predominant mood of the audience.” [8]

A trend that exploits people’s unfulfilled desires to have meaningful connections was replaced by a trend that tip toes lightheartedly around people’s fears of a disastrous future. While the cope-baiting is most obvious in the latter, in both cases the target of the advertisements is someone trying to deal with the miserable life they’re stuck in.

Failure to cope

To cope implies a degree of successfully persevering through the situation. What about when you cannot, when you lack the ability to both change a situation and deal with it in your life? Hopelessness is “significantly related to eventual suicide” by psychiatrists [9], and suicide rates have been on the rise across demographics of age and gender. It is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. [10] If suicide is related to coping, is it linked to a failure to cope, or is it actually a rejection of coping as a way of living? Random mass shootings are also on the rise. [11] These seemingly arbitrary acts are hard to understand, but the absence of empathy points to a lack of connection with people, and the suicidal intentions behind them demonstrates a feeling of hopelessness.


It would be stupid, insensitive, and unhelpful to suggest that people “stop coping,” as if that were possible or even desirable. Instead, I seek to uncover a trend in the hope of allowing us to better understand this oft-changing and complex society we have been forced into. If you know what your enemy has been up to, wouldn’t that help you plot against them?







[6] Crimethinc’s “Self As Other” –