For many, our world seems like a scarier place than it was not so long ago. Whether it’s the news, your social media feed or conversations with friends and family, we’ve suddenly been surrounded by a lot of heavy stuff. It can be overwhelming and leave us feeling dumbfounded and stuck.
In a culture where today’s news stories are always trying to beat yesterday’s shock value, it’s easy to find yourself feeling unmotivated, sad, and even a bit hopeless. The media loves to cycle the same upsetting stories over and over again from every angle. If we’re not careful, the endless stream of tragedy starts to wear us down and dampen our spirits and enthusiasm for life. So how can we “see the light” in times like this? Here are some ways you can try to keep the negativity in check:
Give yourself permission to switch it off.
If the news is getting to be too much, tune it out. That used to be a lot easier to do – you could just leave the newspaper closed and change the TV channel. Now, the play-by-plays of our world’s problems have made their way onto our phones, with many of us getting our information from our favourite social media sites (whether we want it or not). News corporations will keep hammering us with the same stories over and over until something bigger comes along. Consider who you follow, how the posts are making you feel and adjust your settings accordingly. You may even need to snooze, mute or unfollow from friends if they’re repeatedly sharing content that’s upsetting you.
Ask yourself why you’re upset.
Is there a certain story that’s triggering you? What is it about it that’s so distressing for you? Reflecting on this can nudge you towards a better understanding of your personal values, which can help you survey what’s working and what’s not working in your life. Moving forward with a greater understanding of what you want and don’t want can help guide you towards happiness and fulfillment in your personal and professional decision-making.
Look for the helpers.
As Fred Rogers so wisely said, remember to look for the helpers during tough times and tragedies. Humans are biased towards negative information. And though this isn’t something to be ashamed of (we all do it subconsciously), we do need to be aware of it. This evolutionary instinct to pay more attention to the bad than the good was wired to protect us from harm. To override it, we just have to be more intentional about noticing the good things happening all around us. They are there – we promise. Making a conscious effort to notice beautiful things in the world can do wonders to lift your spirits during unprecedented times of tragedy and help restore a little balance.
Action often acts like an antidote to anxiety. Use the injustices you see in the world to take tangible action towards making it a better place. Do the policies of our lawmakers and large corporations make you angry or sad? What can you do, personally, to help? Is it campaigning for more honest leaders around election time? Or perhaps it’s making an effort to support local businesses over major corporations. If the impending threat of climate change makes you fearful or anxious, what steps can you take to make a positive difference? Try empowering those around you by sharing things your kids, friends, or family members can do to help. If you’re short on time or energy but able to contribute money, consider donating to reputable non-profit organizations who want to see the same changes you do. Consider organizations that are doing preventative work in addition to those who are reacting to crises. Sometimes feeling like we’ve made a meaningful difference toward addressing the problem can help dissipate and move us along from our anxiety and other negative emotions.
Remember how far we’ve come.
Though it doesn’t always seem this way, today – right now – is historically the best time to have ever have been alive (especially for women, people of colour, and the LGBTQ+ community). We are working more towards equity and equality within marginalized communities than we ever have, and we’re seeing advances in technology and modern medicine that were inconceivable just a few years ago. Major diseases have been nearly eradicated in many parts of the world, such as polio, scarlet fever, and smallpox. Though modern times pose their own highly complex and threatening challenges, we are slowly making progress (though most would argue not fast enough). This doesn’t mean that our world is not without major concerns. It just means that while there is a lot that needs to be changed, there’s also a lot of positive changes in the world to be grateful for. We’ve got a lot to work on as a world community, but this doesn’t degrade the progress we’ve made.
If you’re finding it hard to make progress and push back against any feelings of overwhelm, sadness or anger, consider whether you need to reach out for help. That can take the form of mental health resources, talking with trusted friends or family members or seeking out professional help. Getting stuck in the bad news doesn’t help you or make the issues go away. Protecting and maintaining your mental health is essential as we seek to overcome the problems and create more good in the world.