by Ellen Hendriksen, PhD: Scrolling through the news these days is like walking through a Halloween haunted house:
scary, horrifying things pop out at you from every angle. Last week on the show, we talked about how to handle the sheer volume of bad news. This week, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen tackles how to deal with the content of today’s fast and furious news.
Since the election, I’ve heard from many listeners concerned about our country’s fate. And the anxiety specialty center where I work has seen a big uptick in patients worried about the next four years. But even if you support the current administration, the combative, chaotic state of the nation isn’t great for anyone’s well-being.
The Savvy Psychologist aims to help you be happier and healthier no matter your political stripes. Regardless of your political leanings, if you get a stomachache every time you scroll through the news, you probably don’t feel particularly happy, and all the stress definitely isn’t healthy.
So with that in mind, here are five ways to take care of yourself for the next four years.
Tip #1: Don’t go at it alone. In times of stress, gathering with like-minded others is vital. Especially if you’re a speck of blue in a sea of red or vice versa, do your best to find your tribe. Everyone needs validation and hope from others, and isolation breeds anxiety and hopelessness. It’s exhausting to be the only one of any demographic, so do your best to find your people. You’ll know them by the pink pussyhats—or the red baseball caps.
Tip #2: Take the long view. To feel better, picture the future. “But that’s what I’ve been doing!” you protest. “And the future ain’t pretty!”
In that case, envision further, past the current turmoil. This is a technique adapted from treatment for panic attacks. When people with panic envision a panic attack, they usually picture the worst, most humiliating panic attack possible. They’ll describe, say, having a panic attack and collapsing in the middle of a crosswalk on a busy street, or flailing around and making a scene in a crowded restaurant. And then? The movie in their mind stops there.
To counter this image, we keep the movie going. Let’s take the collapse-in-the-crosswalk scenario: I’l ask, what would happen next? And they’ll say, maybe someone would ask if I’m okay. And then? Maybe they’d call an ambulance. And then? The ambulance would arrive. And then? I’d be taken to the hospital, monitored, and eventually cleared to go home. The take home? It wouldn’t be pretty, but everything would settle down in the long run.
Now, apply this tool not just to panic, but to the world. It’s not pretty right now, but humanity is scrappy and even if things may not be okay in the short run, as Martin Luther King, Jr., said, paraphrasing 19th century minister and abolitionist Theodore Parker, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
In other words, the world today has some very real problems, but over time, things get better. This earth is more peaceful and more tolerant than at any point in human history. It’s not to say that real people aren’t suffering, but think of it in terms of this line from “The Battle-Field,” a poem by William Cullen Bryant (and, as it happens, House of Pain’s final album): “Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again.”
Tip #3: Pick your fight. The passage of time isn’t the only factor in a better future, of course. We also need action. But this is where so many of us find ourselves paralyzed. The news today can make you feel like the world is ending and you have to save it, which is totally overwhelming. We feel like we need to do everything and end up doing nothing.
Pick one to two issues or organizations that you can support—or fight. By narrowing your scope, you can focus your energy.
So choose your battles. Pick one to two issues or organizations that you can support—or fight. By narrowing your scope, you can focus your energy. Once you’ve chosen your issues, give money, volunteer your time, contact your representatives. Do what you can to save your slice of the world. And then…
Tip #4: Puppy massages, or the equivalent. Buzzfeed was on the right track when it livestreamed video of a puppy getting a massage during the first presidential debate back in September. Don’t put your head in the sand permanently, but be sure to get your own dose of warm fuzzies to balance out the grind of fighting the good fight. Read a totally non-political, escapist novel. Waste a blissful hour clicking through dream vacation destinations. And of course, smile at those puppies!
Tip #5: Take the advice of the Notorious RBG. Last year, Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote an opinion piece about work-life balance. She shared the advice her mother-in-law gave her on her wedding day: “In every good marriage,” she said, “it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.” Ginsburg goes on to apply the advice to her current workplace. She writes: “When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.” To which I say, amen.
To sum up, gather with others, take the long view, narrow your focus of activism when you’re feeling overwhelmed, take breaks to take care of yourself, and sometimes, it’s okay to play a mental test pattern for a bit. Four years later, you’ll thank yourself.