Fire, flood, multiple devastating hurricanes, shootings, inflammatory rhetoric, erosion of rights we have long thought immutable, threats to health care, fears of war, and on and on. Daily. Every time we tune into the news, read articles, listen to the radio, or talk to our neighbors, we are exposed to fear and suffering. Can it be any wonder that in therapy, we are all hearing a tremendous amount of anxiety and disaster fatigue?
Who shall we try to help first? Which thing should we organize for or against? How can we protect ourselves and our children? It is very easy to become overwhelmed and immobilized with anxiety and a sense of helplessness, and to do nothing at all, including taking good care of ourselves. This serves no one.
Take control of your exposure to the constant parade of disasters. It is our responsibility to stay informed — to some extent. But our first responsibility is to stay engaged in our own lives. As a person who has carefully titrated her exposure to the news for years, I can assure you, that when something important happens, you will hear about it. You do not need to immerse yourself in every play by play, photo montage, film footage of what has happened, or every prediction, analysis, or report of what will happen. Absorb a distilled version of events by letting a little time pass before you go looking. This takes the frenetic pace of the in-real-time news out of the picture, and allows you to exercise control over when and how you interact with it.
Curate how and when you consume news, and be intentional about it. What sources to you read and when? What devices do you use for this, and how much are they controlling you. Push notifications? Turn them OFF! It is crucial that you set boundaries and only enter that arena when you choose to.
Choose one thing that you feel deeply about, and take action. Volunteer for an organization, raise money to send to those in need, create a philanthropic project and get others involved. This will go a long way toward reducing that feeling of helplessness so many of us feel.
And most of all, remember that the place you have the most influence is in how you affect the people around you. This begins at home with your family, extends to the work place with colleagues and customers, then to neighbors and casual acquaintances like your mail carrier, and finally to total strangers. The way you treat the checker at the counter, or the person who just cut you off on the highway matters. Let us each counter the rise in hateful behavior by exercising kindness. Never doubt that when you treat a person with kindness, it has an impact.
We can only have a positive affect on others when we are taking care of ourselves. This is the time to commit to your best practices of self care; eat well, sleep enough, exercise, meditate, do good work, and spend quality time with people you love. If you can’t do these things for yourself, then do them for one another. Unquestionably, taking charge of yourself and the affect you have on others is the most responsible thing you can do.