If you’re like me, you feel like you’ve been slogging, zombie-like from one tragedy to the next since approximately 2020.
The emotional and mental bandwidth is full. The limit has been reached with shock and horror and sadness and OUTRAGE.
What is left, and more importantly what can we do to not only maintain a bit of our humanity but also protect our mental health? Especially since the world seems to want us to live in the “alarm” portion of our Arc of Anxiety.
It’s a struggle to protect your own peace without seeming uncaring or in denial, but we live in a time and space where we are inundated with not only news and information, but also the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of HUNDREDS of other people.
It’s not good for our souls.
On top of ALL of that is the looming feeling of helplessness and hopelessness as we deal with a tragedy that has the word, ‘another’ in front of it.
How do we manage?
We can start by doing one of the things that Katy and Laura have preached to their clients for over two decades. We can examine our fear and turn it into courage.
I’m not asking you to don a superhero costume and fight and powers of injustice and harm. It’s more like stepping into your fears so that you do not spiral. You begin this process by doing one of my very favorite things,
FEEL your feelings.
You may feel a myriad of things after yesterday’s news. Name them. All of them. Studies show that even spending 90-seconds identifying your emotions is beneficial to your emotional state.
Allowing yourself to feel the pain, the fear, the anger, and even the things you don’t necessarily want to name like apathy and hopelessness are important.
This can be the most challenging part of overcoming anxiety and fear for anyone. We believe that if we name our fears, we are giving them power. In reality, the opposite is true. Identifying what we are feeling helps us to better understand our anxiety symptoms, how and where they manifest (brain, body, or behavior), and learn how to soothe them that much quicker.
For example, I spent yesterday fluctuating between sadness and apathy with just a touch of hopelessness for good measure. It felt horrible to experience a sense of numbness in the midst of such a nightmare. I know now (Thanks Katy and Laura!) that my anxiety tends to show up in my behavior. I am overwhelmed by it all and so I shut down, mentally.
Knowing this helps me to work through it and get to the good stuff. The courage.
I have always loved Mr. Rogers’s advice of looking for ‘the helpers’ in times of trouble. It restores my faith in humanity when I learn about the selfless acts of others. Hearing news about communities stepping up like they are doing in Ulvada can do a lot to dissipate my fears and anxiety.
I soak up ‘good’ news like a sponge, not to downplay what is going on in the world, but to stop ruminating and catastrophizing, which heightens my anxiety.
These helpers have made the second step in turning their fear into courage. They have focused on who they are and what they value. Things like integrity, compassion, faith, and resilience are on display with every act of kindness that is displayed.
Focus on your own personal values and utilize them in the same way that you name your fears. Find ways to incorporate them into how you are feeling. For example, if you can’t find the helpers, BE a helper. Donate blood. Donate money. Reach out to your local politicians. Become an active participant in policy change. VOTE.
Perform small acts of kindness that may not have anything to do with the tragedy but can brighten the day of someone else who may also be struggling with the ways of the world.
It sounds silly, but whenever I feel like the world is on fire, I go outside. I take a walk or ride my bike. I say hello to everyone I pass along the way. I even greet the ducks I see on the canal.
This goes against my first instinct which is to hunker down and binge “Bob’s Burgers” and ice cream in equal portions. It’s also the way that I step into some of my values; faith and empathy. I have faith that there are more good people in the world than bad, and I know that if I am struggling, others are as well, so a smile and a hearty ‘hello’ can do wonders to give us a second or two of reprieve.
Something else you need to do when there is a tragedy is to monitor how much news you are taking in. Seeing the faces of the victims over and over and absorbing all of the details of the shooting causes vicarious trauma which is also known as secondary trauma; indirect exposure to a traumatic event through first-hand account or narrative of that event.
Turning off the computer or putting the phone down does not equal indifference, but rather intentional prevention from becoming too affected by the trauma.
You also need to find ways to counter your negative thoughts. In the psychology biz, we find “Yeah, but…” to be incredibly frustrating. Typically it means that regardless of how valid the advice that you are getting from your doctor is, you are going to do it your way.
BUT in some cases, “Yeah, but…” can help get your anxiety in check.
Just as with monitoring how much news you take in, trying to shift your mindset during a tragedy does not mean that you are in denial or practicing toxic positivity. Our minds are programmed to go negative as part of their protective role, questioning the overwhelmingly negative thoughts that bombard you prevents you from going down a spiral of anxiety.
I like to look at it as questioning that friend or family member who always has something negative to say. Countering negative thoughts is Anxiety Management 101 and if there was ever a time to utilize it, it’s now.
And lastly, be gentle with yourself and those around you. We all process and deal with these things in different ways. Whether you do actually need to crawl under the covers for a bit, or you’re signing petitions, engaging in boots-on-the-ground activism, or hashtagging on social media…if it works for you then do it.
This has been an incredibly challenging time for all of us, and it’s more than okay to acknowledge that.
Reach out to friends and family, get an instant oxytocin boost and hug someone. Hug yourself even. It’s important to take care of yourself even when you think that you’re doing okay.
If you are struggling and nothing seems to be working, please reach out for help. There are resources available. You can contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) by calling (800)950-NAMI (6264) or by texting “NAMI’ to 741741. The American Psychological Association (APA) also has a list of resources on its website.
The fact that all of this is affecting you isn’t a sign of weakness or that something is wrong with you. It’s a sign that you are a human being feeling very common and human things. Facing those feelings, sitting with them for a bit to get to know them, and then sending them on their way is the most effective way to go from feeling helpless to being a helper. Even if it’s solely to help yourself.