Relief, for Jacqueline Coumans, 77, a retired decorator and French instructor, from fears induced by what she termed “our political chaos” has recently come from reciting the fables of the 17th-century French fabulist Jean de La Fontaine. “I could not fall asleep at all after the first debate,” Ms. Coumans said in a Facebook message. “I was waking up at 3 a.m. sweating with anxiety.”
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No matter that the sonorous tempo of the French in use when she memorized the fables in childhood is often paradoxically at odds with their harsh underlying moral lessons — “The Wolf and the Lamb,” with its conclusion that might is right, is particularly unnerving — Ms. Coumans finds them soothing. “There’s a balance in the sentences that balances your brain.”
To find her own equilibrium in parlous times, Sally Fischer, a Manhattan publicist in her 60s, turns not to literature, she said, but to vintage sitcoms. “I’m a naturally calm person, so I actually find it difficult to jump out of my skin,” Ms. Fischer said.
Yet in the run-up to Nov. 3, Ms. Fischer has become all too familiar with a physical anxiety evoked by that figure of speech. “I’ve never been much of a TV person, but now, from 3 a.m. until I fall asleep again, I retreat into ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ or Dick Van Dyke or ‘Make Room for Daddy,’” Ms. Fischer said. “This may sound stupid, but watching how Andy Griffith raised Opie or Danny Thomas raised his TV kids, in a world where the work ethic, doing charitable work, being good to thy neighbor is such a counter to the disgustingness we’re going through now, helps me suppress the demons.”
A widespread, palpable sense of being hunted into the predawn darkness hardly seems out of the ordinary with the world in the grip of a lethal and invisible menace, said Asha Tarry, a psychotherapist practicing in Manhattan. “To the multiple stresses we’ve all experienced during Covid,” Ms. Tarry said, “add the compounding factors of racial tension, furloughs, the elections, so much social isolation, and it is not surprising people are sleepless, grinding their teeth and having 3 a.m. nightmares.”