My oldest daughter called me today and said “Mom, the world is going to hell in a hand basket!” Do we still use that expression? We do now. Even 30 year olds. She lives in New York. Not in the city, luckily, but in a nice safe rural county. She was bored there last month. Now she’s worried.
Then my younger daughter called and said she and her husband were worried too. They have a 1 year old. “She’s going to have to grow up in a scary and terrible world”.
In my counseling practice, I help people learn to overcome anxiety. I give them hope and skills to keep anxiety from ruining their lives. I encourage realistic positive outcomes. I help you create a life you love. I have to wonder though, is that realistic now?
Ordinarily, I resist watching the news in favor of written daily updates on CNN or The Skimm. They are less visual, less dramatic. I can then help my clients with their anxiety without becoming overwhelmed with frustration for the state of the world myself.
But it’s getting to me too. Where are we going? How do we do business as usual with police brutality, violent protest, and a virus pandemic? So much uncertainty and don’t even get me started on politics.
There is a subtle level of stress that everyone is feeling. Each event is worse than the last and they are piling up. I know most of this has been going on a long time. It’s getting harder to avoid.
I’m seeing an increase in anxiety symptoms in all my clients, my family members and myself.
Let me be clear. I am a white woman, mostly safe, still gainfully employed, virus free (so far!) and able to make many choices about my life and enjoy more privileges than I deserve. My heart goes out to those suffering on a more personal level. I can’t even imagine the pain and fear that my black neighbors here in Denver are feeling when race riots erupt in our city or when we see another black man dying at the hands of police officers over and over again on Tv and social media.
So, where can we find hope in this mess? How do we keep going and become part of the solution?
While I’m not an expert on pandemics, racism, violence or politics, I am an expert at turning shitty situations into survivable, healthy, joy filled lives. Usually.
You don’t have to let anxiety take over your life. Its normal to feel terrible in terrible situations. But, let’s look at some ways to turn your own emotional distress into peace.
1. Start with taking some time out for you. There’s a lot of pressure right now to take care of everything. Demands on your time may have paused initially, but I’m betting they are back in spades! It’s more important than ever to allow time to feel calm again.
2. Your brain is wired to look for trouble. Even if you’d rather ignore the news and avoid hearing the latest political crisis, a part of your brain is always on the lookout for danger. Constant small threats register just below the surface and cause a rising level of tension. Take a breath. Take 10. Take a walk. During these world wide struggles, you need to consciously unwind this tension several times a day.
3. There is much you can’t control, but some you can. Remember the serenity prayer. Repeat silently to yourself. Or find another mantra that reminds you to focus on what you can control. Then do it.
4. Limit news. Really, this is self explanatory.
5. Focus on your small world. Do what you can. Plant a garden. Hug a child. Be generous to restaurant workers. You get the picture. Small things change your world for a minute and help connect you to other humans.
6. Zoom out to the future. In the big picture, we are probably not bumping down the road to hell. I have great faith in human brains, determination, kindness, hope and willingness. Not every single one of us. But enough of us.
7. Get educated. There are so many things we don’t understand about the experiences of people different from us. The good news is there are books, articles, podcasts, and human conversation just waiting for us to tap in. Just start somewhere. When you get overwhelmed, and you will, take a break. Then come back and keep learning.
8. Follow the rules, but don’t go overboard. If you need help figuring out how much isolation and social distance is right for you, reach out for some support. If you had anxiety or depression before this, you may find yourself paralyzed by indecision or be restricting your life in ways that deepen and darken your symptoms.
You don’t have to handle this alone. I have been treating anxiety and depression for over 20 years. I offer on-going supportive therapy at my office in Denver or online (tele-therapy).