It feels like the overwhelming theme of sessions recently has been an underlying layer of existential dread. This dread is typically founded upon personal experiences that disrupt our sense of reality and overall purpose. But now in our current world circumstances, instead of the dread being rooted in personal experiences it is solidly rooted in the goings on of the country and world at large. We are spiraling in a state of hopelessness as we are faced with real threats in all areas of our world, and it feels like that spiral is leading directly into a rabbit hole of fear, helplessness, anger, and deep sadness. We are questioning our meaning, our purpose, and especially our future which is affecting our ability to work through our depression, our anxiety, and the heaviness of all that is being thrown at us. Things that felt so certain before no longer feel that way and we are beginning to recognize that some things we once took for granted are no longer even a reality.
The mental health struggles we had before, or ones that may have come up since the disruption of the security, safety, and stability that some of us once felt is being exacerbated by the chaotic world we are living in, and we are struggling with how to resolve work through our personal struggles and traumas in a world that feels so uncertain. Those of us who feel different levels of privilege are struggling with how to both make sense of how we may find ourselves in what feels like a “lucky” position, while feeling out of control and out of options for how to help or save others. Fear and anxiety are at an all-time high as polarization becomes more extreme in our country and we are struggling with how to find our way back toward necessary connections and to somehow find healing. We are trying to figure out how to work together against so many of the threats that are coming from all sides.
So, just like you, and so many of my clients. I am deep in my feelings about all of this. As I talk with my clients, I empathize, and I try to help them to find options for trying to survive in all of this. I wanted to share with you some of the things I have come up with. I know this list is not exhaustive, nor does it fix the larger issues that are creating the weight, but I hope something on this list can help you, even just a little bit, to feel like some of the weight has been lifted.
1. Stay informed, but make sure you don’t allow yourself to get flooded.
In 2022, we always have ALL the information at our literal fingertips. We are constantly being bombarded with news being thrown at us from all angles. We turn the TV on and there are channels upon channels with 24 hours of news. We go on social media, and we are faced with clips, posts, and opinions about what is going on in our world and these posts are posted and reposted ad nauseam. It is a lot. Staying informed is so important – sticking our heads in the sand will not make the atrocities of the world go away and like all avoidance tactics, once we are hit with the reality of things after attempts to ignore them, they will feel even heavier than if we allowed ourselves to absorb them as they come. The important thing here is to stay informed while preventing flooding. Flooding is when we are faced with the maximum level of triggers and information at the same time, and this often leads to shutting down and shutting out. The focus needs to be on identifying reputable sources and limiting the amount of time spent taking in the information. This is how to make sure we are knowledgeable, while also allowing ourselves space away from it as well.
2.Curate your social media and unfollow accounts that can be triggering for you.
As I said above, remaining informed is important. We should all be sure to stay informed about what is going on in our country and in our world and then how those things will affect us in our lives. There are real things happening and those real things can and will have a real impact on our lives now and in the future and therefore cannot and should not be ignored. We also know that many of us get our information from social media but that the accounts we follow can be inaccurate, flooding, and triggering. Check the accounts you follow – does it provide accurate informed information? If not, unfollow them. Do you feel flooded by the number of accounts you follow that are focused on political topics? If so, select the ones that are most important, most accurate, and most interesting to you, and unfollow the rest. Having thirty accounts sharing the same stories, same posts, and same memes is unnecessary and can lead to feeling flooded by repeated triggers. Are you feeling triggered by your social media when you want it to be a place to escape to and distract yourself from the topics that feel overwhelming? Limit yourself and set timers on your phone for how much time you can spend each day on social media. Snooze the accounts that are most triggering and let your social media be a place to see videos of dogs, how tos, friends, family, and anything else that you find relaxing. Curate your social media to your needs and create a space that is healthiest for you.
3.Take control of what you can and allow yourself to let go of what you can’t.
Wars, the insurrection and the threat of civil war, wildfires and the larger issues of global warming, global pandemics, social injustices, racism and racial inequality, mass shootings, threats to women’s rights and healthcare, threats to healthcare access in general, threats to LGBTQI rights and marriage equality, inflation, economic crisis and a threat of a recession or depression, and on and on and on. When you think of all these things happening at one time, it is amazing that any of us are surviving the way we are. This is overwhelming and it is truly impossible for any one person to take complete control and create change in all these areas, especially all at once. The weight of the helplessness to make change can feel heavy and hopeless when we think about how small we are individually in this big world we live in. What you CAN do is identify what you actually can do. Figure out ways to make change, figure out how to take action that feels manageable and doable and let go of any guilt you may feel for not doing more. One person cannot fix everything, but what one person can do can begin a ripple effect outward into the world. Recognize and honor that.
4.Focus on making small changes – the ripple effect can be real.
As I said above, focus on what you can change. Identifying ways to create change in your home, in your community, and in your workplace can have a ripple effect on others around you. Raise kind, loving, and accepting children. Challenge friends and colleagues that threaten the rights, liberties, and freedoms of others from an informed and supportive place. Making changes in choices in your home that can be impactful for the environment. Write letters, support non-profits, volunteer. No act is too small, but no action will contribute to feeling overwhelmed and most likely increase feelings of guilt.
5.Acknowledge your privilege but try not to feel guilty about it.
We must recognize our personal privileges for any change to happen, but we should do this without feeling guilt. The guilt can be toxic, and that toxicity may in fact prevent us from taking larger action as guilt begins a slippery slope to shame and shame often leads to inaction. Guilt can, at times, feel paralyzing and when you become paralyzed, you will not do anything to create change. Instead, recognize your privilege and use that privileged place to create change and your privileged voice to speak truth to those who do not want to, or have not yet heard it. Allow yourself to do the things you need to do to take care of yourself and your family without guilt. Feeling guilt regarding the importance or impact of your job in the larger world will not change the circumstances, utilizing the stability of your status in your own state of privilege will.
6.Try to distract yourself where you can and utilize healthy grounding and coping skills.
Please, if you do anything, please find ways to distract yourself. We cannot survive in heightened states of anxiety, and stress hormones are not good for our physical or emotional health. You must find ways to focus your mind on other things and get out the anxious and stressed energy that the world around us creates. As we know from the book Burnout by, Emily and Amelia Nagoski, to heal our current inevitable burnout, we must close out our stress cycles. This is going to look different for everyone and each person needs to identify the ways to get this energy our and create space for more relaxed energy as well. Get outside in nature and listen to birds sing. Go for a walk and listen to your favorite songs, podcast, or a great audio book that you can get lost in. Implement an exercise routine that you enjoy and will be able to motivate yourself to do on your own or find a good workout buddy or personal trainer that will help hold you accountable. Find books that you enjoy reading or even join a book club and chat with your friends about the book instead of the chaos of our world. Eat healthy to fuel your body to help it cope with the physical effects of the stress. Ground yourself in the present moment and find things in your life that you appreciate and can find joy in. Honor your stress and the normal response you have to the world around you, but also try to balance that out with the love you have for the people and things around you.
7.Make sure you have good sleep hygiene.
Sleep. Having good sleep hygiene is one of the most important ways to set ourselves up to effectively cope with the stress of our current world. Create a bedtime routine that you follow every night, this will help your mind and body know that it is time to go to sleep and begin winding down. If falling asleep is an issue, try to avoid looking at your phone or watching the news in your bedroom which will aid your brain in identifying your bedroom as a safe space for you. If alcohol disrupts your sleep, try avoiding it until you create a healthy circadian rhythm again, or limiting your intake. Talk to your doctor about possibly using sleep aids if you are unable to quiet your mind and get yourself to sleep. Avoid triggers in the hour leading up to sleep and identify ways to relax your brain and body. Make your bedroom a comfortable and cozy refuge from the chaos by filling is with things that touch all 5 senses in a relaxing way.
8.Remember that you are feeling what you are feeling because you are an empathetic human that cares about other people.
This is the most important. The overwhelming feelings of stress, fear, and hopelessness we are experiencing are not just about us, these feelings are also rooted in the empathy we have for others. If you are feeling angry about all these atrocities, good, you are human and you are having a normal human response to some pretty horrible things that are affecting people outside of just you or your inner circle. If you are feeling hopeless, know you are not alone, any of us who care about other people should be feeling some sense of hopelessness right now. If you are afraid of the things going on in this world, know that some of those fears are real and rational and are an expected response to the overwhelming burden of the breadth of the chaos around us. Please know, fellow empaths, that you are not alone and that we can carry this weight together.
I have been practicing therapy for 15 years and have worked with countless individuals, families and couples. While I do not want to claim to be an "expert" on all things therapy or life (because I always believe that there is room to grow and learn) I have noticed throughout my time connecting with my clients that similar struggles and repetitive patterns present themselves that affect how clients experience and see life. I wanted to take this experience with my clients and the knowledge I have gained and share it here, so that maybe it can touch others lives the way it has helped my clients.