The world around us is bananas right now. Each day brings a fresh deluge of awful news, and it seems like the world as we know it is coming apart at the seams. Everywhere I look right now, the story is the same: Dozens of my clients, colleagues and friends have said they feel like they aren’t doing enough, while everything seems to be taking twice as long to do. Fear, uncertainty and doubt are clouding up our perceptions, and moving forward feels like moving through molasses.
You’re taking action. You may have added calling your representatives to your daily routine, or you might be marching for the first time in years (or ever). Maybe you’re taking extra care to clarify your values to your kids, or donating money or time to a cause you believe in. But none of it seems to be enough, and you can’t shake that deep sense of ungroundedness and uncertainty. For those tender souls who feel everything, stability and a sense of centeredness are especially hard to find right now.
Whether you’re reacting to the current political climate, or you are just trying to get through life with a pushy parent, a stressful job, a sick kid or any of life’s other major stressors, there’s not an overnight fix. When things around you have gone haywire, the last thing you might think to do — and the most important — is to give yourself some foundation to stand on.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Take a breath
Get into nature
Nature provides a different perspective. The trees, oceans, mountains and lakes have been here long before we were here and they’ll be here long after we’re gone. Plus, fresh air is good for you. Whether you wander into the woods near your house or just spend a few minutes on a park bench, a little time in nature, away from the concerns of people, might be just the thing you need. Watch some bugs, feel the breeze and take comfort that there’s an entire world that has nothing to do with human concerns — and you already live in it.
Renegotiate your relationship to social media.
You wouldn’t go to a party filled with people you didn’t want to see.
Why should social media be any different? Unfollow, unfriend or block people who leave you feeling unsettled after you interact with them. Hide news sources that overstimulate your emotions in order to get you to click. Cut back on how much time you spend on Facebook and Twitter and consider taking up an offline habit to replace them with. Unfollow anyone you are comparing yourself to on Instagram and start following things that inspire you instead (I hardly follow any of my actual real life friends on Instagram and my feed is mostly filled with pictures of nature, art, and cute animals. Instagram is my happy place, and I’m ruthless about it.
Notice how you feel after you use a social media site, and if it’s not good, immediately take steps to alter its role in your life.
Call a friend.
Call someone you love. Reconnect with someone from your past. Have a conversation with someone whose opinion you respect that goes beyond liking their comments on Facebook, or wondering yet again what they’re up to. Pick up the phone and call them.
If you have phone anxiety, try scheduling a phone date ahead of time or using Skype so you can see them. Ask questions about how it’s going. Be curious. Talk about what they’re seeing, what they’re noticing, what matters to them. There’s more to their life than what you hear through gossip or social media. Connecting in real time makes a difference and builds a relationship that matters to you.
Drop someone a note.
Since the election, I have started writing a lot more notes and letters. I’ve sent notes to people from my past thanking them for their impact on my life, a birthday card to kid with an intellectual disability, a note to an immigrant friend letting him know I’m glad he’s here, a thank you note to my congressman, and probably half a dozen more. It takes less than 15 minutes and it’s one of the best ways I’ve found to feel grounded and connected to other people.
You can send a private message to someone you admire on Facebook, telling them you appreciate them. Drop a card in the mail to a friend letting them know you’re thinking of them. Write anonymous love notes and leave them in your neighborhood. Thank a former teacher who affected you in a meaningful way.
Too anxious to actually call your reps? Write an email or send a postcard to your congress critters telling them about the issues you care about most.
Move your body
It’s easy to take the weight of the world onto your shoulders, so take a couple of minutes to move around. You could do a full-blown workout (it sure seems to me that a lot of folks are exercising more to cope with the stress), but just a minute or two of stretching can go a long way to making you feel like maybe you’re gonna be okay after all. (My foam roller is saving my life right now.)
After reading upsetting news, 20 pushups or jumping jacks can help reset your nervous system. Literally, actually “shaking it off” gives the adrenaline and fear someplace to go, and is really good for you.
Get more sleep.
Go to bed at a reasonable hour. Take naps. Let yourself unwind away from screens for an hour or two before bed. Keep the stressful stuff out of the bedroom. Go get some acupuncture and pass out in the chair. Or a conk out during a massage. Whatever gets you there.
Take care of someone (or something) else.
One of the best ways to get out of your own head is to put your attention on someone or something else. Now might be the time to make your garden extra nice or to adopt a pet. Show up for a sick friend, or start doing that volunteer work you’ve been thinking about for a while.
Look for good news.
I’m not saying that you should pretend that everything is all rosy or that you should ignore that awful things that are happening. But it’s easy to get disheartened or to think that efforts at protest and pushback aren’t working if you don’t acknowledge them when they do. So pay attention when there is a small victory, when tens of thousands of people spontaneously protest, when millions of women march to have their voices heard and when a boycott works; when there’s a win of any kind, even if it’s imperfect.
Collect bits of good news as though they are balloons and let them lift you up when you need it.
Say Thank You.
“Thank you” is an interpersonal form of gratitude, and it can really make someone’s day. Make a point to thank the people around you who make your life better. From your barista to your coworker to your Lyft driver or the person bagging your groceries, a brief, heartfelt “thanks” can make you feel connecting to others and remind you that everything is not all bad, and basic things are still working.
I recently called a big corporation that was doing something I liked to thank them, and the woman on the other end of the phone was absolutely delighted to hear from me. No one ever calls to say “You’re doing a good job.” It feels good on both ends. Try it.
Meditate (or something like it)
It seems like everywhere I look these days, people are using the Headspace app. So many folks I know are using it right now to get a grip on things, and it seems to be working. So if meditation is your thing and you could use a little help, check it out.
If, on the other hand, you prefer less traditional ways of meditating, try coloring or playing with boxes of sand. However you find your way to the present moment is a good one. Just 10 minutes will make a world of difference.
Let yourself rest.
It can be tempting to try to stay up-to-date and current, but being emotionally keyed up isn’t the same thing as taking action to make a change. When you are wound up and can’t seem to get a grip, it’s time to rest. Get off the treadmill of needing to know what’s happening at all times. Turn off the news at 8pm and do quiet things until bedtime.
Take a 24 hour media break over the weekends.
Let your time be filled with companionable silence instead of trying to understand another slice of what’s happening.
Don’t worry, the problems aren’t going anywhere
They’ll still be there for you to pick up when you’re ready. For now, stop. Rest. It’s not your job to know all of the things.
Call your representatives.
Yes, I know everyone is telling you to do this. If like me, you have some phone anxiety, it may not seem like this is a grounding activity. But if you’ve been ranting on Facebook about your opinions, and feeling like no one important is hearing you, it can be immensely satisfying to call your reps and hear someone on the other end of the phone thank you for telling them what you want.
And you’re much more likely to get what you want when you ask the people who might be able to do something about it.
I found that 90 seconds of phone calls to my reps each morning is much more grounding than 3 hours of scrolling through the “news”. If like me, you need a little structure to lead you through, here is a guide to help:
Prioritize pleasure and joy.
Remember your senses and tend to them. Run your fingers through wet grass. Inhale the scent of the flowers that are starting to bloom. Snuggle up with a loved one even though your mind is racing. Play games with your kids. Watch a comedy. Lose yourself in a good book. Wear the sexy underwear. Make art that makes you feel good. Make your favorite meal and dine by candlelight. Learn a new skill. Make an altar. Cozy up by the fire. Drink the good bottle of wine. Don’t let these things be taken from you. They are what make you feel alive, no matter what is going on around you.
Hang in there
If things seem extra hard right now, you’re not making it up. But that doesn’t mean you have to make it even harder on yourself. Developing practices to keep you centered and grounded will help you get through the hard stuff, whether it’s the fresh hell of daily “news” or the pile of pain that life has a habit of throwing our way sometimes.
As Audre Lorde put it, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” The road ahead is long. Plan for a marathon, not a sprint.