Read today’s news and it’s easy to get depressed — one troubling story after another. An online survey taken about a year ago by the American Psychological Association (APA) reports that 57 percent of Americans say that the current political climate is a very or somewhat significant source of stress. How do we keep our balance when we’re buffeted by fierce social and political winds?
We’re each challenged to find a path that works for us — and make adjustments along the way. Here are some survival strategies that may or may not have resonance for you.
I watch less television news than I used to, although there are some informative news programs with interesting guests. I want to know the basics of what’s going on so that I don’t get blindsided by some stunning development. I read news captions and selective articles on the Internet and in newspapers at my gym. But everyone is different.
The problem with chronic exposure to troubling events is that it can release a stress response in our body that can have damaging long-term effects. Any perceived threat, such as a dog charging us, a horrendous news story, or the latest political debacle can trigger an alarm that prompts our adrenal glands to flood our body with hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.
Our body is designed to be resilient enough to deal with passing stressors. But when we’re continually in the fight, flight, freeze mode, our stress response may get stuck in the “on” position. As described on the Mayo Clinic website, when the stress-response system is activated long term, cortisol and other stress hormones can interfere with other bodily processes, increasing the risk of heart disease, sleep problems, memory impairment, digestive problems, anxiety and depression.
Each person needs to get a felt sense for what they can handle without feeling overwhelmed or traumatized, and weigh the risks of over-exposure with the risks (both to yourself and society) of remaining ignorant. Some people with sensitive nervous systems seek protection by exposing themselves to very little news, if any. Others may have sensitivity to lurking danger and stay glued to the news as a way to manage their anxiety.
Others read or watch just enough to be informed, so they’re not oblivious and can vote wisely, but without being glued to the TV or computer screen, like a moth being drawn to a flame. Others find the news interesting or entertaining rather than distressing. The news media cranks out a dizzying amount of news every day. One part of self-care is to know our boundaries in relation to how much we can expose our psyches to without feeling paralyzed or besieged.
We all know the importance of self-care, but in today’s turbulent times it’s especially essential. Meditation and mindfulness practices can help regulate our nervous system. Physical activity helps release stress from the body. I find yoga, meditation and exercise to be especially helpful, along with having a decent diet. Whatever resources help you discharge stress and maintain some inner balance, such as art, music, or nature walks (alone or with a friend), can be revitalizing.
Most of us lead busy lives, so taking care of ourselves is easier said than done. We need to use our creativity to see how we might design a life that includes activities and practices that replenish us. Just do your best without stressing out about it or over-thinking it.
It might surprise you to realize how many people feel the same way you do. Feeling alone and powerless is one of the greatest stressors. It’s not unusual to feel a reactive anxiety or sadness about our current political situation. In fact, it might mean that you care enough to be deeply affected by current events.
Finding friends or a support group where you can share your feelings and concerns can be enormously reassuring and healing. You are not alone with your concerns. Talking with a therapist about your fears and feelings can also be very helpful, especially if you are finding yourself not sleeping or functioning well due to depression or anxiety.
Giving emotional support to ourselves is also important. Can we find a way to be gentle with our feelings without concluding that something is wrong with us? A process such as Gendlin’s Focusing can be a helpful way to make room for our feelings without being debilitated by them.
Contributing to Our World
Being part of the solution instead of part of the problem can be empowering. As philosophers and psychologists have written, we have little control over what happens to us, but more control over how we relate to what happens. Perhaps you are already contributing to society through your work and lifestyle. Or maybe you want to consider joining causes that can make a difference.
We’re not condemned to wallow in terminal powerlessness. Even a small effort to make the world better might help you feel better. Small acts of kindness can have rippling effects.
I find some comfort in remembering that sometimes an individual — or a society — needs to hit bottom before finding their way forward. Hopefully there won’t be too many more bottoms. Whether there are or not, it may help to remember that we’re in this together and that the human spirit is very resilient.
Take some deep breaths, remember who you are, join with like-hearted people, do your best to live in the moment, and allow yourself to abide in meaningful moments of joy and connectedness with others.