We are living in a stressful time. Concerns and disagreements about covid, vaccines, mass shootings, government actions, the accuracy of our elections, and the failing economy will cause stress and anxiety in almost all of us at one time or another. We all need to develop coping skills and healing habits to keep us emotionally strong and to maintain healthy relationships during this time of division and tumult. You can get through this while remaining healthy and strong if you take certain steps. Here in NYC, the world can seem like a very busy and overwhelming place. I am here to help.
Examine how much time you spend looking at news shows or consuming social media. The constant bombardment of news, which by its very nature is stressful, will naturally increase your stress and anxiety. News outlets intentionally present stories in an emotionally-charged manner to maintain their audience and thus their advertisers (and thus, money). If you continually remember that it’s in their best interest to keep you anxious and looking to them for constant news updates, you may be able to break the cycle.
Social media also has its share of emotional stress built into it. People who probably know very little about a subject offer impassioned (and sometimes rude) posts, which cause others to respond with knee-jerk emotional replies, and the cycle perpetuates itself.
Turn it off. While it’s valuable to be aware of what’s going on, you need to monitor how much time you spend and what sources you choose. Try to turn to less emotionally-charged sources, and limit yourself to only a short time daily – or better yet, just a couple times a week. Don’t worry. If anything really important happens, you’ll hear about it from someone. Then you can look.
This leads to another source of news and stress – other people. If you live with or work with people who are talking constantly about emotionally-charged political or cultural concerns that cause you stress, whether you agree with them or not, talk to them about your feelings and your need to discuss these things less for your own mental health. Most people will be very considerate of your feelings because they don’t want to intentionally cause others anxiety or suffering.
Identify your “buttons.” Determine which issues cause you the most anxiety, stress, or depression. Once you’re clear on your hot buttons, brainstorm ideas to cope with those issues.
As already mentioned, take steps to limit the input from news, social media, and people. But you can go a step further by planning how you will respond next time the conversation comes up. Plan some respectful, intelligent, fact-based responses that could diffuse emotions or redirect the conversation. If necessary, have some pre-planned ways of stepping away from the conversation.
Be open to hearing other people’s points of view. This can be very difficult, but if it is, it might be a sign that you are too convinced of your own “rightness” and everyone else’s “wrongness.” Stop and listen. Even if you continue to disagree, you may find that the other person has well-thought-out reasons for his or her position, which will certainly diffuse your emotional response and make it easier to discuss different points of view.
Examine your fears realistically. How serious is the threat, really? If you feel there are real dangers that must be addressed, decide on some action steps. Taking physical action can give you a sense of control of the situation, which can diffuse some fear. For instance, take necessary preparations for your family, such as a nest egg or a few weeks of food and water. Find ways to help others who might be in need. Vote.
Feed your inner self
Focus on hope. Focus on thankfulness. Be mindful of some blessing every time you start to feel anxious. Blessings are all around us. Take a deep breath, enjoy the air filling your lungs, and be thankful for it. These positive thoughts quickly overpower the negative thoughts. Yes, negative thoughts feel stronger, but in reality, they are not. Your positive self-thoughts can kick them out, at least for a time, and the more often you practice thankfulness, mindfulness, and positive self-talk, the quieter and weaker those negative thoughts become.
Many people turn to alcohol, comfort food, or binge-watching to silence their anxiety and calm their nerves. These are not healthy choices, and the negative thoughts flood back in as soon as you stop – so you have to do it again. Positivity, hope, and thankfulness, on the other hand, gradually lessen those negative thoughts with practice.
In addition, substance abuse, poor eating, and couch-potato activities are bad for your physical health, which also affects your mental health. So choose exercise instead of sitting in front of a screen; choose the fun and challenge of making a new, healthy recipe rather than reaching for easy, unhealthy, fast food. Care for your physical health and you’ll be caring for your mental health, as well.
When to seek professional help
If you’ve consistently tried some of these steps and they aren’t working, or if you feel too sad, anxious, or overwhelmed to put them into practice alone, reach out for professional help. If you ever have thoughts of self-harm or harm to others, do not delay for an instant. Seek help from a professional who can guide you out of this darkness and into a brighter, happier future.
If you need help, please don’t hesitate to call my office. As a psychotherapist, I provide a safe and secure environment for my clients that fosters self-awareness and the strength to make a change. Call me today at (917) 331-6075.