Staying Calm in an Unsettled World

It seems to me the news has been particularly disturbing lately.  Whether it’s ideological groups thrusting aggressively forward with psychologically terrifying tactics, a disturbing disease stealing the lives of thousands and seeping past our borders or an unusual strain of a common cold virus that’s sending children to the hospital with aggressive symptoms…we are living in a world that potentially could feel a little out of control.

If you have a tendency for worry, this time might be particularly challenging.

How do you stay calm in an unsettled world?

Take in the good.  Our brains have an inherent negativity bias.  Some have a stronger negativity bias than others and much of that is due to prior experiences.  If you’ve had trauma or disappointing relationships with important others, it’s possible you tend towards a “glass half empty” view.  It makes perfect sense if you are feeling nervous now.  There are scary things happening!  But – there are good things happening too.

Commit to a daily practice of noticing what’s right, beautiful, inspiring and positive going on in the world and around you.

Be present.  Worry is usually future oriented.  Depression often lives in the past.  The unfortunate goings on portrayed by the media can easily be triggering your sense of stability in the future.  If you tend towards a generalized anxiety, an underlying belief that “something bad will happen,” an unsettled world would surely be upsetting, particularly as the topics are psychologically challenging, swirling around basic survival needs, loss and experiencing the pain of others.  Research has shown that being mindful (in the moment) can decrease stress, distract from anxiety, increase resilience and bring attention to the good around you.  Mindfulness can literally rewire your brain away from your negativity bias.

Spend a few minutes a day sitting in a quiet place with closed eyes and noticing your breath fill and empty your lungs.  For the most satisfying breath, try to bring it all the way into your belly.  Notice your thoughts float by like clouds.  Let them pass with no judgment.  

Avoid obsessive media consumption.  It’s the media’s job to inform the public of what is going on in the world.  Unfortunately, what gets the most attention seems to be the negative.  The amount of connectivity many of us have with our devices and laptops (aside from television and radio news) makes it challenging but do the best you can to limit your media exposure.  Excessive worriers can get caught up in obsessive watching and reading of the news.  A study found that high stress reactions from watching the media coverage of the Boston bombings were directly linked to watching “six or more hours a day of media coverage and their aftermath.”

If it’s important for you to stay aware of the goings on, pick one time in the day to check in with the news, preferable not before bedtime. 

Do what feels good.  If you’re feeling distressed around the world and national news, it’s also important to practice self-care.  Have compassion for yourself and your fear.  You are not silly or “too sensitive.”  You are perhaps more wired for anxiety and sensitivity to things that challenge your sense of safety.  The reality is, even those who don’t tend towards anxiety are also likely paying some additional attention the recent events.  Admitting to yourself that you feel vulnerable is the first step towards enacting a self-care plan.

Do one thing a day that feels good or is relaxing.  Take a bath, a walk, a run, cook, spend time with a pet, your child or whatever resonates with you.  

The reality of living is that life can be hard sometimes.  It can be painful, disturbing and hard to believe.  No one is immune to fear and worry at times.  Will we be ok?  Will those who we love be ok?  And these times are pushing some boundaries for many.  But excessive fear and anxiety can be a disservice to us.

The above suggestions offer ways you can empower yourself to take the control you do have back.