"Be the change you want to see in the world." ~ Mahatma Gandhi
I'm a believer in the adage that knowledge is power and that it's important to be aware of what's happening with our global neighbors. We're all connected, more so now than ever before because technology has given us immediate access to late-breaking news. World issues, such as war, famine, water shortages, and human rights issues, won't get any better for anyone if we don't work together toward solutions. Having compassion and being part of the solution requires acquiring accurate information about what's actually occurring both locally and globally. Because of this, I'm a bit of a news-junky. Yet, if I don't make a conscious effort to limit how much I watch, I will either have the television tuned to national news all the time or I will constantly check social media for the latest news updates. And, sometimes, all of the constant focus on negative news leads me to the feeling of "gloom and doom."
In this age of 24-hour news coverage and social media, it feels like we're constantly bombarded with mostly bad news. Almost every day, when we turn on the television, computer, or smart phone, there's a breaking report about some horrific event. With technology at our fingertips, the information is conveyed to us immediately and in greater graphic detail than ever before. While having consciousness of what's happening in our community and our world is important to being a participating member of this planet, there comes a tipping point, when our frequently recurring reactions of fear, sadness, and anger become part of the problem that we wish to resolve.
This constant overload of negative information can cause us to become, physically and emotionally, exhausted and susceptible to illness. When that happens, not only are we unable to help our neighbors, but we also lose focus on being present for those close to us in our lives, as well as for our own emotional and physical health. We can develop what's called compassion fatigue, which leaves us feeling emotionally numb, socially isolated, and withdrawn from life. This phenomenon often leads to anxiety, feeling stressed-out, and depressed. And it can certainly get in the way of following our dreams and of creating more positivity in the world.
Here are some tips for staying balanced and on track during these negative news cycles:
1. Feel what you feel.
Psychotherapist, writer, and teacher, Dr. Dave Richo, author of the book, The Five Things We Cannot Change...and the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them, reminds us of what the spiritual masters have been telling us for centuries, "Pain is a given of life." If we avoid feeling it, rather than "embracing it," as he points out, it will cause greater suffering. In fact, as I've seen with my clients who've experienced traumatic events, if we try to numb ourselves from the pain, we will not be able to feel joy. That's because we can't pick and choose which emotions to numb and which to feel ... it's all or nothing. By allowing our selves to embrace the inevitability of pain and being present with the sadness, the intensity will eventually decrease and we can then enjoy positive emotions and have the creativity and enthusiasm to work at solving some of the problems in the world. It's important to not live in a bubble and to allow our selves to feel sad and to grieve. This compassion helps us to then be part of the solution.
2. Take a bad news break by looking for good news.
We also need to take breaks from all of the bad news. There has always been bad news in the world and there always will be bad news. We're just more able to hear about it and see it play out through technology. But, there is also good news that we don't hear about because good news doesn't sell as well. So, it's up to us to try to find the good news in order to create balance. It can become addictive, but watching the same reports on the same devastating events over and over does not help the situation and only creates more feelings of despair and helplessness. Sources, such as GoodNewsNetwork.com and the websites of spiritual teachers, like Eckhart Tolle (EckhartTolle.com) and Deepak Chopra (DeepakChopra.com), as well as such magazines as Live Happy Magazine and, even, AARP Magazine, are great places to find out about positive news in the world.
3. Be grateful for the positives in your life and in the world.
Gratitude is a powerful way of finding balance in the midst of our own personal storms and of the bad news storms we often find ourselves in the midst of in recent days. By focusing our attention on feeling thankful for good news, it not only changes our perspective but also expands what we feel grateful for. "Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more," says Oprah Winfrey, one of the most famous proponents of having "an attitude of gratitude."
4. Surround yourself with positive people with whom you can discuss your feelings.
When we isolate ourselves, it can lead to a further decline in mood, especially if we're already feeling depressed or stressed-out. Ironically, stress, anxiety, and depression cause us to want to isolate ourselves even more. By developing relationships with positive people with whom we can discuss our feelings, knowing that we won't be attacked for what we discuss with them, we create a very important emotional support system and the opportunity to put our thoughts and feelings into a better perspective. Healthy debate is even positive, but avoid debates that become negative and involve name-calling of each other. Feel free to delete or hide from your view any negative comments made on social media, rather than getting pulled into an argument. Those sorts of arguments are not helpful to the situation and only cause more anger, anxiety, and/or despair.
Take a complete technology time-out and find a way to relax. Frequently experiencing the stress-response, also known as the fight-or-flight response, which can be triggered by watching or hearing about tragic events, can eventually lead to depression, anxiety, and damage to every organ of our body. Therefore, having a practice of inducing the relaxation response, taking time to go inward to find peace, can significantly increase our ability to stay healthy, balanced, and creative. Take breaks for meditation, slow deep breathing, a massage, yoga, a walk in nature, or any other form of relaxation that feels right for you. (Read my last blog, How to Thrive With Stress, for more tips on the manifesting the relaxation response.)
Exercise is a way to detoxify from the stress hormones that we create when we're in the stress reaction and is a way of creating those happy chemicals, endorphins. In addition, it's been found that exercising several times per week boosts our immune system, so that we can keep from becoming sick. One key for consistency is to choose an exercise that you enjoy.
7. Eat well and sleep well.
Eating the right foods can help us to be more resilient to stress, to prevent disease, and to be more energized to take on the world. (For more about food and mood, check out my blog, Food for the Soul.) And, of course, getting enough good quality sleep is essential for having a good mood, as well as good health.
8. Laugh regularly.
Make it a point to laugh every day. You might ask how it's possible to laugh, when things seem so grim. That's precisely when we need to laugh the most. Laugher gives us better perspective and helps to lift our mood. That's why the best comedians are the ones who joke about the saddest or most stressful topics. They know that we feel an immediate release of stress when laughing about those issues and this makes their jokes resonate more with us.
9. Practice realistic optimism.
Knowing that, even during stressful times, we have the ability to cope, helps us to move forward and to become part of the solution. Keep in mind that the nature of life is that it always contains dark and light, yin and yang, up and down, ebb and flow. Choosing to ride these waves as smoothly as possible, by accepting that this is what life is about and knowing we will get through it, instead of resisting, will help to keep us afloat.
10. Find meaning.
Get involved, rather than sitting at home, stressing about the news. Become part of the change process. Vote. Help others register to vote. Volunteer with a cause that you feel strongly about.
When I've found myself feeling emotionally out of balance and that I've lost sight of my desired goals and dreams or my ability to be part of the solution, I remember the wisdom passed along to me by a friend during graduate school. "My grandma always told me," he said, "it's not how many times you get knocked down on the mat that counts. It's how long you stay down." We all get knocked off balance from time to time in our lives. Sometimes we can catch ourselves from falling or can get ourselves back up off the mat quickly. But, there are occasions when we may need to ask for help. Assistance can come in the form of a mentor, a coach, a friend, or a mental health professional. Most important is that we get back up.