In an era of gun violence, war and political divisions, following endless news can become irresistible. And in the midst of our many ongoing challenges – epidemics, climate change, economic uncertainty – it is understandable to feel sad, angry and worried.
As a clinical psychologist who specializes in giving people the tools to deal with intense emotions, I know how positive it can be to take a deeper care of our world – or just how difficult it can be to maintain balance. Some of my clients say they can’t stop doomscrolling, others engage in unhealthy behaviors to secure it, and many bounce between the two extremes.
But it is possible to anchor yourself if you feel like you are falling into despair about the state of the world. I rely on these seven mindfulness-based strategies to keep me and my clients grounded.
1. Label your feelings.
If you can properly label the emotion you are feeling at the moment, you can reduce its energy in your body and brain. Name the emotion you are feeling, be it sadness, fear, anger, hatred or guilt – and how intensely you are feeling it. Say it out loud, use a mood tracking app like Daily, Reflectively or Moodnotes or write down your feelings in a journal.
Try not to wait until your feelings come to the top though. Practice naming as soon as your emotions come. Tracking their intensity allows you to slow down before reaching a boiling point and can lose yourself in anxiety or rumors, hitting someone or reaching for a substance unscathed.
2. Allow yourself to feel emotional too.
Melanie Hernandez, a psychologist at VA Puget Sound Health Care System and author of “Treating Trauma in Dialectical Behavior Therapy”, says that if you try to avoid your feelings, they will intensify. When you are emotionally affected by a news story, take a moment to notice what you are thinking, doing, and feeling in your body. Choose what works best for you right now – whether it’s creating a window to feel your emotions for a few minutes, without trying to change them, or, if you’re in the middle of an important task, plan to revisit the painful news. Time you can mourn.
One way to improve your ability to sit with emotions is to remember that they can fluctuate quickly. One exercise that helps my clients stop worrying about their feelings is watching a series of short, emotional scenes – a death scene from “The Champ” and then a snippet from Farrell Williams’ “Happy” music video. “If you try it, you can tear yourself apart in a moment, then dance or laugh in your chair. The goal is to see how that same transient feeling can be applied to different types of emotions when you are present throughout the day.
Understandably, after a tragedy, it can also feel tempting to shrink the chances of your life to avoid painful emotions. For example, after learning of the widespread violence in a supermarket, as we have seen in the case of the horrific Boulder and Buffalo shots, it is normal to feel uncomfortable going to the grocery store. Remember that allowing yourself to feel your emotions with fear will eventually improve your anxiety when you get back to routine, says Dr. Hernandez.
3. Practice different types of empathy.
You can feel driven to make a difference and help without over-identifying the other person’s pain. “We are taught that the way to help others is through empathy, but it can be a trap,” said George Everly Jr., a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health who specializes in crisis intervention and resilience.
In order to reduce the burning sensation among humanitarian aid workers, Dr. Everly encourages them to take perspectives or try to understand the world from the perspective of others instead of absorbing themselves in their emotions, rather than blurring the line between what they are feeling. Your experience.
“There is a difference between being aware and being immersed and overwhelmed,” says Sharon Salzburg, a leading mindfulness teacher and author of “Real Change: Mindfulness to Hill Oursells and the World”.
A study of more than 7,500 physicians found that understanding and acknowledging patients ’emotions reduced burnout, while excessive exposure to their patients’ experiences predicted mental fatigue among physicians. It requires practice, but if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, try to take a few breaths and then try to change to a more cognitive form of anxiety as opposed to fully participating in grief.
4. Take action.
By considering ways to help others, you will regain some control in a world that may feel overwhelming when it comes to improving your own well-being. Doing things intentionally and repeatedly, such as donations, volunteering, or being politically involved, reduces a person’s risk of falling into depression and increases happiness.
“When we get together and wake up with a positive, real action, it’s almost impossible to fall into despair,” said Shelley Tigielski, an activist and author of “Sit Down to Rise Up.”
Spend some time thinking about the factors that make sense to you the way you want to contribute. As we work to improve injustice in the world, “our empathy and our efforts must be balanced with the wisdom that things can take time. They may take a long time, but sometimes our efforts are planted with a seed, ”said Mrs. Salzburg.
5. Rethink your words.
It may feel normal to use dramatic statements like “I’m broken” when something terrible happens in the world. This is especially true on social media, where extreme language can be legitimized by other people “liking” or commenting. But our words and interpretations have a powerful effect on our feelings and behavior.
While it’s helpful to allow ourselves to respect our feelings, our emotions intensify when we over-describe situations that are already painful. Catastrophic thinking can trigger or exacerbate negative emotions in many people. So consider replacing thoughts or phrases such as, “The world is falling apart”, “I need to do something to improve X.”
6. Invest in a pleasure practice.
Resilience, the ability to work after a stressful event, often depends on adding positive emotions and actions to your day to improve your ability to cope with challenges. Connect with people who inspire you and schedule hobbies that can get you excited. Protecting your mental health is not selfish; This enables you to be your best version, not the burn-out version, said Dr. Everly, who takes the time to exercise even while on a disaster relief mission.
Aside from adding activities that encourage happiness, practice engaging in moments when positive emotions naturally arise in your day, be it your morning coffee or spending time with someone you love.
“When the news cycle is affected by horrible things, we can lose good eyesight in the world and in our own lives,” Dr. Hernandez said.
But if you are struggling to find moments of peace and find yourself experiencing grief or anxiety that is affecting your ability to work, contact a therapist who can provide you with evidence-based tools to improve your well-being.
7. Respect your limits without losing sight of problems and pain.
Think about the specific time of day, say morning and mid-afternoon, when you want to keep it up instead of constantly scrolling through the news or keeping it running in the background. Taking a break doesn’t mean you’re not taking care; It’s about hitting the break so you can go back to tackling the world’s challenges and trying to make a real difference.
It is also important to stay connected to the factors that are important to us in a relatively quiet time. “We feel intense pain, then forget,” Mrs. Salzburg said. He suggests we find ways to appear for important reasons, even if they are not at the top of our news feed.
Allow yourself to feel pain and joy without getting stuck. In this way let your emotions contribute to the real healing. Dr. Harnond reminded me of an analogy that Marsha Linehan, a psychologist and pioneer of mindfulness-based behavioral therapy, taught: You can go to the cemetery without building a house there.
Jenny Titz is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of several books, including one on upcoming stress.