It is almost impossible to ignore the political unrest in our country. Regardless of whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, I hope that we can all agree that what we are seeing unfold across the country is heartbreaking, shocking, and quite honestly, terrifying. If you’re anything like me, you have been obsessively scrolling news apps while simultaneously watching the news on the television. And while we might believe that knowing will bring us peace, I am here to tell you that this is false. You will not find peace in the media – be it CNN, FoxNews, NYTimes, FaceBook, or Twitter.
So how can we find peace when the dumpster fire has exploded?
Start by turning off the news.
I know. How dare I even suggest such an atrocity? But truth be told, nothing good is coming of it. They are telling us the same story on repeat, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The world is burning to the ground. People are dying in record numbers. And there are now armed rioters trying to violently overthrow American democracy.
Watching the news all day long will not help that subtle (or maybe not so subtle) anxiety coursing through your veins. Hearing pundits argue about the best course of action – to impeach or not impeach; invoke the 25th amendment or not – is not helping you in your day-to-day tasks. It is not helping you get food on the table, and worse, it is stealing what little peace you may have left after a brutal 2020.
Turn it off.
Allow yourself 15 – 20 minutes every day to check in. Because let’s be honest, we all know I am not going to turn off the news. But put time limits on your news apps on your phone and turn off the television. Checking in once per day – or if you absolutely must, once in the morning and once at night – will allow you to stay up-to-date on the latest breaking news while preventing the obsessive scrolling and consuming.
Get off social media.
I’ll be honest. I haven’t been on social media of any kind since September 29, 2020. What was significant about this date? The first Presidential Debate. The one that was a complete debacle lacking any semblance to a debate. That night, as I scrolled through Facebook, I was disgusted with the comments – from both sides. It was gross, and I felt my blood pressure rising. I felt my fingers twitching, and I wanted nothing more but to light people up – people I haven’t spoken to since graduating high school – for their ignorance and complete lack of understanding of American politics.
But what good comes of that?
Nothing. Not one thing.
Because you will never convince someone through a tweet or a Facebook post or a comment to change their mind. You will never change the mind of someone who has openly accepted the conspiracy theories floating around social media. It’s a lost cause, so save your breath, your time, and your sanity.
I know. It’s cold. It’s miserable out there. I hate the winter. I hate it with every cell in my body. When I step outside, if feels as though my skin is being pierced with a trillion needles, repeatedly, until I no longer have feeling. And no, it doesn’t matter if I am dressed like an Eskimo or in a bathing suit. The feeling is the same. You won’t convince me to like winter, just as you won’t convince Q-Anon believers that it’s all a farce. So don’t try.
But last Thursday, after 24 hours of obsessive news consumption and the kind of anxiety that keeps you up all night long, Tyler insisted we go for a walk. It was 45 degrees and cloudy, with a feels-like temperature of 33. It could have been -14 degrees because temps that cold are all the same to me. But I went. Begrudgingly.
The frigid air smacked me in the face and I immediately felt grounded. I was present. I could feel the cold air go in through my nose and warm, moist air leave my mouth. My eyes watered as the wind whipped through our court. My nose started dripping.
I was miserable. But I was present. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and sighed a huge breath I didn’t realize I was holding.
We walked for about five minutes before I couldn’t take the cold a moment longer, but those five minutes were enough to clear my head, to bring me back into my body, and to remind me that I needed to care for myself.
So go on. Strap on some sneakers, grab a hat, mittens, winter boots, a warm jacket, and a scarf – or ten – and get outside. Even for five minutes. Your mind will thank you.
I am a huge advocate for journaling. I tend to only journal when I am struggling with something, so any snoopers flipping through my journal would get the impression that I am off my rocker and hate life, but the truth is, writing about my frustrations or my worst fears allows me to dump all of that negativity onto paper without worrying someone else, or worse, getting into a debate with someone with differing opinions. I don’t know if you have ever tried to debate someone about something you are completely anxious about, but it never goes well.
My journal is a safe space where I can process my darkest fears. Getting it onto paper and then rereading what I wrote typically provides me with enough distance from my thoughts to see the hidden patterns and fears. And then I am able to process my emotions and find ways to manage them, rather than being steamrolled into the fetal position in bed.
Don’t know what to write about? Start by writing single words. Whatever comes to mind. They don’t have to make sense to anyone but you – no one should be reading it but you. Keep writing single words until they flow into phrases, and then eventually sentences. You aren’t writing a doctoral thesis. You don’t need perfect spelling or grammar, even punctuation. Just write until you have nothing left to write.
When you are done, you can go back and re-read what you wrote, or you can close the journal and walk away. It is entirely up to you. But do give some thought to what you wrote and see if there are any patterns or repeated thoughts that continue to show up.
Oh, working out. My greatest love-hate relationship. I love the way I feel and how clear my head is after a workout. But before? It is an exercise in moving mountains.
The endorphin rush you get from working out helps to get your blood pumping, which means more oxygen flowing through your veins. In short, it helps you think better.
There are a ton of apps that provide short high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts. My favorite is Nike Training Center. There are workouts ranging from five minutes to an hour, and you can search for workouts focusing on specific muscle groups or on specific benefits (endurance, strength, mobility). For most of the provided workouts, you don’t need equipment. Heck, you can even search based on the equipment you have on hand.
Best part? It’s free.
In highly stressful times, such as these, aim for 30 minutes of activity five days per week. It’s a chance for your to focus on yourself and clear your head. Besides, when you’re sweating it out on your mat (or treadmill, or Peloton, or wherever), you likely aren’t compulsively scrolling through media. So there’s that.
Connect with Friends.
COVID. I know. COVID has stopped us all from being around anyone who does not live within the four walls of our home. But now, more than ever, we need to be surrounded by like-minded, supportive friends.
Yes, it is cold. And yes, it sucks to be outdoors. But get a fire pit and some firewood, set it up in the driveway or out back, and invite your closest friend over. Resist the urge to hug it out – we all need a hug right now – and sit on opposite sides of the fire.
Spending time with friends – either talking about current events, or not – will bring your stress levels down. You’ll walk away from your time together feeling like you will survive this, because good friends help us to find the light.
As much as you can over the next few months, schedule time with a close friend. Even a virtual chat with a friend is better than nothing. We are coming off a year where we all hunkered down and many lost touch with our nearest and dearest. As much as we would all love to rush toward each other with open arms, it’s not quite the time yet.
So hang on just a bit longer. Light the fire. Invite a friend.
You’ll be glad you did.
Finally, Cry it Out.
Seriously. Cry. Let it go. All that negative emotion is doing no good swimming around your body. Let it go.
Do it in the shower, in your bed, on your couch. Wherever you feel most comfortable. But allow yourself to feel the emotion but don’t fight back the tears. Let them go.
And if you have trouble letting it go, put on a real sappy movie. If you haven’t watched Godmothered yet on Disney+, watch it. It’s a cheesy Hallmark-esque movie, but it’ll hit you in the feels.
Weirdly, after you let all that heavy emotion flow through you and out your eyes in the form of tears, you’ll feel lighter and a bit more clear-headed. It’s worth the puffy eyelids and runny nose.
And just one more note: If you are feeling suicidal, thinking about hurting yourself, or are concerned that someone you know may be in danger of hurting himself or herself, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or the Suicide Hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433), both of which are staffed by certified crisis response professionals, or call 911.