Coping With The Stressors Of The Moderm World
Coping With The Stressors Of The Moderm World
Dear Tacit,

With all the awful things happening in this world, my worry is off the charts.  Things just seem so hopeless sometimes.  How can I not get so stressed out?

Signed: Coping With The Stressors Of The Modern World

Dear: Coping With The Stressors Of The Modern World

What a great topic to focus on, as we kick start the New Year.  With the instability and unrest that stems from everything that has been happening in the world around us, concerns have jumped to an all-time high relative to the thoughts and feelings people hold about things like war, climate change, book banning’s, women’s rights issues, political unrest, government control, LGBTQ2s issues, homelessness, immigration policies, education reform, and more.  People are not feeling safe/settled. And there seems to be a great deal of polarization that is/has been developing – within countries, within communities and within families – as people express themselves on these matters.

Human beings like to have a sense of control in their lives.  We are autonomous beings – meaning we like to be our own bosses (make decisions for ourselves and not be forced or ruled by the will of others).  Our own values, needs, wants and opinions (about what is right and wrong, especially) govern the choices we make in this life.  And when our sense of personal freedom and safety decreases, we get uncomfortable – resistant – and even oppositional and defiant, at times.  It’s a natural protective response in our brain.  And it surfaces differently for everyone – sometimes aggressively and dominantly, and sometimes more passively and internally.  Conflict increases, either with one another or within our own self, as the feelings of helplessness and unease that we are experiencing grows.

So how can we better manage this stress and angst when we really don’t have much say or influence over the powers that get to decide the bigger issues, but which eventually impact us all?

Stay focused on the “now” – and not on what you think might happen in the future. Your brain will imagine many worse case outcomes (we are all born with this skill hard wired into our thought processes).  There is no possible way that we can effectively problem solve every scenario that comes to mind – it becomes a never-ending worry loop.  And the time and energy spent on being stuck in this pattern is absolutely exhausting and full of negativity (the scenarios that our brain naturally envisions are seldom hopeful and uplifting – that takes intentional effort to make happen, and will only work if we are not drowning in the negative possibilities instead).  Focus on the fact that, at this point in time, you DO still have choices and freedoms – you ARE safe (put your attention on the many ways) – and you ARE in control of your immediate world, even if it is still challenging in some ways.

If your thoughts wander to the worst-case outcomes, imagine yourself coping well with the situations that might come your way.  Empower yourself.  Remind yourself of your strengths and ability to be resilient – you are not helpless, even if you cannot have all the control that you would like to have.

When the dread and catastrophizing seeps in, balance the feelings with logical evaluations.  Ask yourself a few questions, to put things back into perspective.

  1. How bad is this problem likely to be?
  2. Will it be the worst thing that’s ever happened to me?
  3. Is it something I’ll never recover from? Or is it a situation I’ll live through and manage, even if I don’t like it much?
  4. What can I control about this situation?

Lean into the choices you have to protect yourself/keep yourself safe.  Ask yourself what it is that you can do about the feelings you are having and concentrate your energy on the things that ARE within your control, in your own life.  Limit the exposure you have to the triggers that create your anxiety (like watching the news, social media, etc).  Stay informed, but get your information from the most reliable sources.  Practice stress relieving exercises (deep breathing, stretching, massage, pressure point work, etc) on a regular basis, to counter the tension that is building BEFORE you feel completely overwhelmed.  Use grounding techniques to help you stay connected to the current moment and to remind your brain/body that you are safe.  Remember to work on your key foundations every day – exercise daily, get good quality sleep, and stay properly nourished and hydrated so your body has the energy and balance it needs to manage the mental and emotional stress you are dealing with.

Find the calm that comes with being able to accept the uncertainty.  No one can control everything – being able to embrace this understanding frees you from the drive to try.  Connect with others, and notice that you are not alone.  There is peace in realizing that others are experiencing the same thing that you are – it helps normalize things, and tells your brain that it is okay to feel the way that it does.

Learn how to create positive optimism in your life. Our brain can only think about one thing at a time, so give it something real and uplifting to focus on.  Practice appreciation and gratitude, multiple times a day, towards the people and circumstances in your life that are pleasant and safe.  Intentionally search out the things that are going well and that make you happy, and spend time reflecting on those feelings (we seldom allow ourselves to do this – which is partially why the negative thought patterns can become so ingrained).

Notice the self talk tapes that are playing in your head.  Sometimes they become so habitualized that we don’t consciously recognize the messages that we are sending to ourselves.  If your tape is full of worry and negativity, change it.  Write down a new message of acceptance and peace that you can read aloud to yourself many times a day, until your brain starts to repeat those words on its own!

Learn the technique of “zooming in”.  Some of the worries that we think about are pretty huge issues.  Global concerns and international problems are very real but they can start to feel almost immediate to us, and that increases the dread and feelings of helplessness and fear that get created.  So “zoom in” – focus on a smaller perspective.  Start with your friends/family – your immediate community – and just your own self.  When we refocus the dial a little bit, things can seem clearer and less daunting.

We will all have different opinions about what should/should not happen with the big issues that exist these days.  The more we think about these controversies, the more unsettled we might feel.  I am not suggesting we stay ignorant and uninformed.  But I am encouraging us all to balance our need for security/control and emotional release with consideration for others (and everyone’s right to have different opinions/feelings on these matters) and for ourselves.

We need to be aware of our own limited capacity to take on the worries of this world, single handedly.  And we need to give ourselves permission to step away from the thoughts or discussions that take our stress levels to the point where we are not acting in the best interest of anyone, including our own self!  We are no good to anyone if we are not able to manage our own values, feelings and opinions in healthy ways.

Take Care!

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