by Kim Childs
Last year, a coaching client asked me for strategies to deal with the climate of anxiety in the US prior to the presidential election. In addition to trying some of my recommendations, my client started volunteering with a local political organization in order to feel that she was “doing something” in challenging times.
A year later, as those levels of anxiety have mounted, I applaud anyone who’s focused on being the positive change they seek in the world right now. It’s why this quote from historian and activist Howard Zinn is one of my favorites:
To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act.
Focusing on what we can do and control in anxious times is not only energizing and empowering, it creates the kind of future we desire to inhabit, one brave act at a time. In addition to volunteering with causes and campaigns that are meaningful to you, here are some other ideas for coping and cultivating strength when the world seems out of control:
Step away from the screen. My friend Deborah Sosin, a therapist, writer, and mindfulness specialist, recommends taking regular breaks from media of all kinds. “Too much exposure to traumatic news and images can trigger anxiety, depression, substance abuse, insomnia, and a range of stress reactions,” says Deborah. “If I tune out periodically, it doesn’t mean I don’t care about the world. It just means I’m taking care of myself.” Author of an award-winning picture book about a girl who finds her way to peace in a noisy world, Deborah notes that our children need media breaks, too. “Put all devices aside for a while and go for a walk with them. Notice the sky, the trees, and the grass,” she advises. “If your kids ask questions about the news or politics, answer honestly and simply, then redirect the conversation to something in their lives, in the present moment.”
Play. “I’m making a conscious attempt to do things I enjoy lately,” reports a friend. “It’s like a small energy bar of good feeling in the midst of all this chaos. Also, I make sure to have music in my life, whether it’s playing invisible drums along with my car stereo, a dance aerobics class, singing in the shower, or shimmying in the hallway on the way to a staff meeting.” Play boosts our mood, and those positive vibes can likewise uplift those we encounter.
Self-soothe—and move. Several people I’ve spoken with told me that practicing yoga, meditation, or Reiki helps them maintain equilibrium. I need my morning rituals and daily walks to ground myself. It helps that I do them near trees, open sky, and a lovely pond, as exercise and time in nature are natural relaxants and mood boosters. Here’s one very simple practice that can help ease stress: Place a hand on your heart, take a few conscious breaths, and say to yourself, “Right now, in this moment, I’m here and I’m okay.”
Connect with kindred spirits. It can be tempting to isolate when feeling overwhelmed, but quality time spent talking and sharing meaningful activities with beloved people and communities is uplifting.
Put things in perspective. Another friend of mine finds that what helps him stay calm is remembering that the world has survived major shifts and crises before. “Nothing that is happening right now is all that different from anything that has happened in the past, at least in the greater scheme of things,” he says. “Light and dark forces are always seeking to balance each other out.” He advocates spiritual practices that help us feel connected to something bigger than us. I further recommend a daily gratitude practice, or a nightly “What Went Well Today?” exercise.
Keep it super simple (KISS). What items can come off your schedule or to-do list when life is challenging? Which routines can you simplify? Which invitations and requests can you decline in order to make more space and time for what you truly require and desire? Simplifying can create peace of mind.
Escape. Entertaining ourselves is also good medicine in troubled times, whether via comedy, cat videos, or uplifting movies. One friend of mine is currently finding comfort in Star Trek reruns. “Seriously, a little escapism with clear enemies and reliable victories is sometimes just what the doctor ordered,” she says.
I agree. Beam me up, Scotty?
Kim Childs, CPPC, is a CiPP graduate and a Boston-area certified life and career coach specializing in positive psychology, creativity, and soulful living. Learn more about her work and schedule a free initial consultation in person or via phone or Skype at kimchilds.com.