How do we re-establish a sense of balance and overcome the effects of disaster saturation on our nervous systems in these days of the 24 hour news cycle?
We are bombarded with bad news. Fires, flood, famine, terrorism, racism, mass murders, horrific violence, poverty, homelessness, violence against women and minorities, political corruption and injustice, dire warnings about the global economy, and so much more. There is always something to claim our attention and increase our feelings of helplessness in the face of overwhelming suffering and danger. Depression is now at unprecedented levels, and many report feelings of compassion fatigue and overwhelm.
People tell me they are now living in a state of constant anxiety, and this is not only those who spend all day watching the news cycle or combing social media for information. Anyone who is sensitive to the zeitgeist – the spirit of the times – will feel the tension in the air, sometimes subliminally because they sense the anxiety in the affect of those around them, sometimes because everyone’s conversation seems more negative than usual.
The physical effects are manifold. Increased stress hormone production results in mood swings, indigestion, sleep difficulty, reduced or hyper immune function, blood pressure issues, and a host of other symptoms.
So how do we overcome this trend in our daily lives and press the reset button to re-establish calm and a sense of wellbeing?
The answers seem obvious. Talk about something else! Turn off the TV, phone, computer! Limit your exposure to violent entertainment: movies, TV programs, gaming. These feed the angst. Just as we are what we eat, we are what we choose to take into our minds. Overindulgence in unhealthy physical or mental ‘food’ will have negative consequences.
But this advice isn’t enough. Many of us have a technology addiction and will find ourselves reverting to old habits. Furthermore, many of the people with whom we interact on a daily basis will be caught in this cycle of negativity.
One of the fundamental precepts I apply to my work as a therapist is this maxim: if we take something away, we need to replace it with something better. And that ‘something better’, in this case, consists of several physical and mental activities designed to lower anxiety and combat negative thoughts.
- Meditation, especially walking meditation, helps to bring us back into the present moment. When practised regularly, it provides a baseline of calm to which we can readily return.
- Hobbies which absorb our attention offer our minds a welcome respite. Painting, pottery, weaving, spinning, collage, textile art, woodwork, photography! Make your own list! I have a client who took up knitting and likens it to meditation.
- Exercise, A brisk walk or a run or a work-out builds mental and physical resilience.
- Join a choir or dance group. In many cultures around the world, depression and anxiety are linked to lack of music or contact with the earth.
- Potter about in the garden or tend your pot plants if you have any, or even join a local community garden.
- As Joseph Campbell said, “follow your bliss”. You know what brings you joy and, if you’ve somehow forgotten, try to remember what you loved doing when you were a child, before the world intruded on your dreams.
In other words, find an activity which absorbs you, is enjoyable, and reduces your exposure to the cares of the world. This is not to say you shouldn’t be involved and aware of what is happening, but it’s about balance and sound mental hygiene.
The world is changing and we are changing with it. How we respond will determine our ability to cope.
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