What can I say other than, what in the HEEEEEEECK IS HAPPENING in our country? For anyone with a sense of decency or even an emotional pulse, it would be quite literally impossible to not be impacted by the heightened sense of fear, bigotry, confusion and chaos going on right now. Political leanings aside, I think most of us can agree that seeing extreme hate and abuse tactics directed at our most marginalized members of society being constantly covered and even, in some cases, “excused” by top leaders…is taxing, exhausting, and, for some people, even terrifying.
I have been a therapist for about 14 years, and I can safely say that I am noticing within my clients and friends the most concentrated level(s) of anxiety, panic and duress I’ve ever seen at one moment in time. The tendency towards self-injury and suicidal ideation are rapidly increasing, as is a general panic about life on a daily basis. Questions like what might happen to them or their loved ones if this train wreck of behavior continues are rampant. While I don’t have immediate answers to those questions, nor do I live under the delusion I can truly “fix” this fear in others; what I do know is that the need for self-love, self-care and even emotional self protection is MASSIVELY important at this time.
Remember this. Being in a panic does not make you an activist. Being constantly in duress and terrified about what the state-of-the-world is at current is also not making you an impactful advocate or leader. While these feelings are entirely normal and completely understandable, it can be really confusing to hear that taking care of yourself and your own needs first and foremost can actually make you better prepared to advocate for and be of service to others. And that message, I believe, is absolutely paramount right now.
For today’s post, I really wanted to hone in on the importance of taking care of yourself so you can more efficiently and empathically take care of your neighbor. While there are many ways to get involved and make a difference at this time; I truly believe that putting YOU first will be the MOST effective tool for implementing what is most likely a desire to have a positive impact on the current state of affairs.
1) Schedule social media time-outs for yourself
Look, I’m just as addicted to social media as the next person. But, truth be told, this level of contact with the outside world is not only abnormal for a human being, it is unhealthy. The desire to constantly check what other people are saying or doing about the political climate of our nation is not a sincere attempt at being informed. It is a faulty and ineffective attempt at being in control. Let me repeat that. Being in constant “awareness” of what others are saying, doing and reporting about the state of our country is not a sincere attempt at being informed; it is a faulty and ineffective attempt at being in control.
As much as we would like to believe that information is power, it actually isn’t on some level. Information is important – as is knowledge – but true control does not exist in the realm of what we are currently experiencing. What you DO have control over is how you respond to what you know, how you engage with the people in your inner-circle, and how you turn that around and allow that to impact your day and your life. That is it. That is all you actually have control over. If you really want to get involved, go volunteer with an organization, engage in local politics, help out another person in need, but do not delude yourself into believing that fighting with people on Facebook or re-tweeting something someone else believes is actually creating the marked change and the internal comfort you desire. You have choices, but control through engaging on social media and keeping up with the latest stories from your friends is not one of them that will instill within you actual peace or power.
I’m not suggesting you do a social media blackout or that you don’t ever read other people’s posts about politics. What I am suggesting is challenging yourself to turn it off for AT A MINIMUM of a few hours a day and maybe listen to a song, walk in the grass or actually focus on the tasks right in front of you. Even just a little bit of effort in this case can really get you a LOT of brain power (and serenity) back.
2) Ask a friend out for coffee (or tea)
If you are in emotional duress over things in the world, chances are those in your inner-circle are too. Just for a day or an afternoon or a weekend morning, think of how you might bring joy and some escape time to a friend and stop thinking about your own fear. Maybe you have a friend with whom you don’t spend enough time. Maybe you have been selfish over the last few weeks or months and forgotten that others may also need to talk about things. Maybe you just didn’t even realize that you could still legitimately sit in a public place, with your phone off, and have a real conversation with another human being. Talk about anything OTHER than the state of the world. Anything. The weather. Latest movies you have seen. Your fears about your career. Ask the friend about what is REALLY going on in their life. Not only will this fuel the very real and natural desire for human connection, but it will most likely make you realize how LITTLE time you are actually spending doing things that matter. If it turns out to be a good time, who knows, you might even do it again. (Going out for alcohol doesn’t count as that is no different than going out and using the wall of politics to avoid true connection).
3) Take a super long walk
Let’s face it. Not only is being constantly connected a part of the current fabric of our lives, it is also a TOTAL wall from just simply moving our bodies and living in the NOW. How often do you just walk for no reason? Not to lose weight or to punish yourself for eating a little more than you normally might have over this past weekend, but truly just walking to move the mind and the body? No destination in mind? Just for the sake of doing it? If you can’t answer that, this may be a really important step to try.
Maybe you could listen to music. Or here is a novel idea, you could listen to NOTHING but the sound of your mind and the feelings and thoughts that arise when you move without any other distraction. Maybe you will notice a cute restaurant you have never seen, a dog sitting with its owner or maybe even LITERALLY a rose! Can you believe it? Yes, there are still roses and flowers and puppies and manicured lawns on this planet. Even people helping strangers across the street. It will do your mind SO MUCH good just to move. And to detach from the confines of your house and your typical stressors. How about showing some gratitude that you CAN walk and that you CAN move? That sounds so easy, but for so many of us, it is SO hard.
Note: If you are disabled, no problem. Take a roll. Or sit outside for a little while. If you can’t go outside, look at a different view in the house. If you can’t see, smell something that gives you pleasure. Anything. Listen to your own thoughts for a few minutes. In other words, no matter who you are or what your challenges, you have choices. Try something – ANYTHING – new.
4) Go one entire day without turning on the television or reading a news article
I don’t think most people realize how attached they are to their televisions and their computers. And OTHER people’s stories. That is right. We are inundated with constant information, but also, the stories and opinions of so many other people, that I don’t think we often remember what WE think, feel, need and believe. Some of you will find this exercise easy. If you do, then try it for two or three days, or heck, even a week if you are up for the challenge. Or, if there is something OTHER than the television or the computer that you use to run from your feelings, maybe try to give THAT up for a day and see how you feel. If you get quiet, you will know immediately what your version of “television” is. The question is are you ready to get honest with yourself about it and make a very small effort in the right direction towards letting that go?
If you don’t find it easy, or even feel that this task is impossible, then it may be time to take some serious stock of what you are avoiding in your thoughts, feelings and life. If it is that hard for you to tune inward for one day, then I can guarantee you that there is something you are afraid to face within yourself. Think about how much more you could do in this world, and even in your own life if you took a minute to try to figure out what that thing you are avoiding through constant distraction is. While it may be painful in the short run, I can assure you that running through any source of distraction will cause way more pain, grief and emotional discomfort in the long run. Stop running from yourself. The time is now.
5) Talk to someone you always ignore
People make all kinds of statements about wanting to change the world, but most of us are unwilling or unaware that the MOST important thing we can do to make a difference is to treat those with whom we come into contact as though they matter. To pay attention. To listen and to show kindness to those in our regular path. Yet most of us do exactly the opposite; paying so much attention to the next THING or the next BIG gesture towards someone who may not even care about us, that we ignore the people right at our fingertips.
Just for today, take a minute. Get a picture in your mind of someone you come across regularly (colleague, neighbor, person at the dog park, barista) that you always seem to ignore. Maybe not even intentionally. Maybe out of “efficiency” or getting where you need to “on time” and try something different. Get curious. Make a move. Say something. Anything. Even if they ignore you or don’t engage back, then YOU did your part. You stepped outside of your comfort zone. You made the impact. You tried. And that is WAY more than the impact you could ever make sitting in front of a computer and virtually screaming at your Uncle’s third cousin who has very much peeved you off with their daily comment about the state of our nation.
You CAN make a difference. You just may need to look within a tiny bit more in order to find out how you can not only throw one pebble, but truly make remarkable waves.
If you are searching for professional support for your stress around the state of the world, or just need emotional support for any reason at all, please contact me and refer to this blog post.