In the words of one of my clients: “I am barely able to function right now. I am paralyzed by what is happening in our government. I just don’t know what to do.”
I am hearing from clients and friends- and know from personal experience- that times are trying right now, to be euphemistic. While there is great togetherness among caring people and communities who are standing up to celebrate and protect each other, there is an underlying and real fear of national and global catastrophe. There is plenty of evidence every day in the news that the US federal government is entering a phase of fascism that will include mass suffering and even death. It sounds like history is repeating itself- as the plot of a Hollywood movie depicting an apocalyptic United States. For some of us- the most underprivileged and most vulnerable- every day can feel like a new nightmare. This is the unreal reality that we are all facing.
I choose the phrase “unreal reality” because we are suffering from some factual events, but also from our own perceptions and expectations. When we are suffering there is what is happening (the facts being reported by legitimate news outlets)- and then there is all that we pile on top of it. All of our over-generalizations, fortune telling, and fallacies of external control cause uncomfortable facts to become insurmountable crises in our minds. The fact that politician A signs an executive order is the reality, the consequences we and others dream up of that action is the unreality. Will there be mass suffering? Or will the order be nullified by a yet-unknown other entity? Will the politician become embroiled in lawsuits and be unable to pursue his political agenda? We don’t know.
At this juncture- and throughout our lives- the vast majority of our suffering in modern, Western culture comes from what we pile on top of the facts. Let’s all take responsibility for the stories we weave in our own minds and share with each other- and refrain from catastrophizing. So much of what we fear is not only not yet a catastrophe, but may take a sharp right turn for something surprisingly good. We just don’t know.
In order to reduce the collective pain right now, I’d like to share 3 straightforward suggestions for stepping off this doomsday train of fear and powerlessness. Let’s instead choose to stand on solid ground.
Step Away From the Information Ledge
If you are regularly consuming news stories that leave you feeling anxious and/or depressed, it’s time to stop. What you are doing is an emotional version of picking a scab. Leave it alone! Being an informed person is important, but being a happy person is more important. If you have to choose between “informed” and “happy,” please choose “happy.”
How stepping away from the news looks is up to you. If you want to not watch news programs nor read news articles at all- nor even go on social media where the headlines are all over the place- you have the right to do that. If you want to spend at most half an hour at a specified time each day scanning the headlines, do that. Just don’t check in on the headlines with constant push notifications on your phone, peppering your day with doses of depression. No one needs that. Unless your profession requires that you know exactly what is happening, all the time, let it go.
Instead of absorbing the news about distant decisions and potential fall-outs of those decisions, come back to the very real present moment, right in front of you. Right now, are you… physically comfortable? Have you eaten? Are there any stretches you can do that would release some tension in your body? All of these questions bring me to my second suggestion…
Treat Yourself Well
In the space created by not exposing yourself to the news so much, make self-care your priority. Again, that can look many ways: pausing to do some stretching, making yourself a healthy meal, uplifting reading or listening, simply enjoying silence and your in-and-out breaths. Going outside for a ten-minute walk. Investing in personal psychotherapy or massage therapy every week. When stress is high, your self-care needs to be higher.
I have heard it said that if you usually meditate for half an hour each day, very busy times call for sitting a full hour. That is the paradox of self-care: so many of us throw caring for ourselves out the door when we feel overwhelmed… which is exactly the time we need to narrow our vision to the bare essentials: livelihood, family obligations- and self-care.
I can’t over-emphasize the importance of checking in with your physical and emotional needs at this time and taking a warrior stance in shoring yourself up. Only happy and peaceful people can create happiness and peace in the world. Begin with yourself, and move out from there.
Lift Up Your Voice
Finally, a positive outcome of the alarming news is that all kinds of people are newly becoming actively engaged in US democracy. Whether meeting together in private homes or town halls or on street corners, you are not alone. You are part of the majority. There are a lot of people now working on the issue of preventing the growth of fascism, in official and unofficial capacities. It is healing to be part of that group. Again, your choices are wide here. Depending on the influence you have in your professional and personal roles, you can be an organizer or a joiner. You can be a marcher or a donor- or a fund withholder. Do you have any financial ties to organizations that are supporting destruction and human rights violations? Eliminate those ties immediately. Our voice is expressed in numerous ways, and the dollar is a powerful form of voice.
There are people hosting parties to write letters to politicians about the issues. There are groups planning the next march. There are churches and schools determining how to protect their community members who are not US citizens. Are you a writer? A builder? Those talents can be used. Your particular voice matters, and I encourage you to find a constructive and personally meaningful way to speak out. Speak out both independently and alongside the many, many other voices already speaking out.
By taking care of ourselves and standing up together for what is beautiful in this world, we truly can- and are- shaping the future. As one of my teacher says, “the best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment.” Taking care of your present moment by taking care of yourself and your community is a form of activism. Taking care of the present moment is already creating the future you want. Here’s to arriving in that bright future happy, healthy, and surrounded by Tribe.
Important skills you are strengthening:
Share Your Experience
Do you have techniques for managing anxiety-provoking news? Please share about it in the “comments” section. The internet is a powerful resource for learning from others- make your experience count!