The world seems to be self-destructing. Whether it is violence, natural disasters or political discord, our world can seem like it is on the precipice of a cliff. Life used to seem predictable, and now we are confronted with what seems like increased danger, destruction and conflict. It is becoming more common for people to talk about distressing news and world events during therapy sessions.
The Internet is not always helpful. 24-hour news online easily overwhelms us with too much information. In the past, an earthquake halfway around the world was a one paragraph news article in the paper – now we get 17 videos of the suffering.
When we try to escape on social media, we are more frequently confronted with angry memes or friends venting about the horrible state of things. We want to have contact with friends and family, but the constant barrage of negativity is exhausting.
People feel less safe. In the past, it seemed people were safer in certain places. A church, a school, your office at work, a concert – these used to be safe havens. Now we commonly hear of atrocities that are committed, innocent people killed – and no place seems sacred. It can be enough to make you want to stay inside and lock the door. Obviously though, that is not living.
We don’t want to lose our freedom because of a few who go off the rails. Also, usually the less we are active and the more we isolate, the worse we feel.
No one can have a conversation anymore. Whether it’s public officials or neighbors, we often can’t disagree or debate a topic and still be respectful of each other. There is no room for attempting to see someone else’s point of view. Either you agree with me or you are an idiot is the implication.
No room for middle ground, no room for compromise. Us versus them. We hang out and talk to people with similar views. We purge our social media of contacts whose posts annoy us. We yell at the tv when we hear a pundit we don’t like. Half of the country must be complete morons!
Of course, that’s not true. Most of us have more in common with each other than we are different. I know, because I talk to people every day – and most people are good.
Fires wreak havoc. Hurricanes seem bigger and more destructive. Drought and floods seem more extreme. Earthquakes, volcano eruptions, tornados – all unpredictable.
Humans have always lived with natural disasters. But with all this non-stop information at our disposal, it seems a new disaster happens every day. Of course, these events are terrible. However, it doesn’t help to watch these disasters unfold around the world for hours a day.
So, how do we cope with all this tragedy? How can we deal with all this chaos and still get through the day? It is a challenge, but there are some practical steps you can take.
First and foremost is a simple but powerful idea: Focus on something you can control. If there is something horrible going on somewhere else, you can still do something else positive right now, right here. Spend quality time with someone you care about. Go out and enjoy nature.
Finish a project. Clean your house. Exercise. No, it won’t make everything all better, but it will give you something different to focus on, and we usually feel a little better doing something constructive.
While we are in the swing of doing things, it can also help to: do something meaningful. Often life feels better if we can figure out how we can be part of a meaningful solution. Volunteer for an organization that helps people. Help a neighbor. Teach a kid how to read. Join an organization that supports things that you believe in. Donate money to a cause you think is helping. Write a letter or email to a politician. Go to a city council or school board meeting.
We get so stuck in just being entertained, or just being observers, that we forget that people make the world work and that we can have an impact on our world. And doing these meaningful things makes people happier.
Create something. If you are an artist or a musician, you’ve already been doing this. For everyone else, it doesn’t hurt to do something creative anyway.
Take a picture of the sunset, sing in the car on the way to work. This is for fun, no pressure to become a worldwide sensation. Build something – do a project around the house, paint the bathroom. Make your own greeting cards. Learn to cook a new recipe. Plant a garden. Redo the landscaping in your yard. Put a photo album together. Teach your dog a new trick. Write a poem.
What can you do to create something new? When we are creating, then the world is a brighter and more fulfilling place.
For most of us, things are better if we can focus on what we can control – doing something instead of sitting around and thinking. We can also choose to focus our energy on taking part in something meaningful or creating something new. When we do these things, we help ourselves feel better, and sometimes actually make a difference!