As if the combined duress of social isolation, homeschooling children, and a bleak economy was not enough to deal with, the deadly insurrection on January 6, 2021 at the United States Capitol has seemingly pushed us to the brink. A truly frightening question is, what lies beyond that brink? And, can we handle it?
Therapists all over the country are being flooded with calls for help to make sense of the brutal images of violence and mayhem that quickly spread throughout media outlets. The fears are palpable and unprecedented.
Last week, a client in her early 40s reached out and shared with me, “With so much going on in the world, I numbed myself to it years ago. This is different. I am worried sick about my family’s safety and I don’t know what to tell my children anymore. “
Over 80 percent of people living in North America report being concerned about the nation’s future, according to the American Psychological Association. Nearly 50 percent of Americans are managing mild to severe levels of anxiety.
We are leaning on an invisible ally called “the normalcy bias” in this country. The normalcy bias feeds our appetite to feel safe, in control, and able to predict what’s waiting around the corner. When we drop off our kids at school, we need to believe that we will pick them up at 3:15 p.m., go home, and prepare dinner. If we were forced to contemplate an emergency landing while flying to Las Vegas, airports would remain empty. We depend on everything being alright in order to function day to day.
The attack on the Capitol crashed into our realities in a way that cannot be ignored. There is no way to tuck death, destruction, and shock away into a neat and tidy corner of your mind. When trauma is not dealt with in a meaningful, direct, and compassionate way, it is left to fester, grow, and inevitably lead to more profound levels of traumatic injury.
Managing stress in today’s political climate requires active engagement. We simply do not have the luxury of placing our mental health on autopilot today—that would be a recipe for psychological disaster.
Below, find seven winning strategies that will help you experience more mental balance, hope, and energy each day.
1. Eliminate pop-up mornings and center yourself at the start of the day.
The science and results are clear: taking as few as five minutes a day to center yourself with a combination of breathing and daily preprogramming can set you up for positive and productive results. Simply close your eyes and begin to take deep belly breaths. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you inhale and exhale, imagine yourself moving throughout your day experiencing a sense of peace and protection. Visualize yourself completing your daily tasks filled with gratitude, energy, and positivity. When you program images into your brain, you then strive to complete them.
2. Accept reality and commit to taking care of your mental health using ACT.
There is no way to escape the reality that we are living in tumultuous times. Why try? Instead, use a form of self-therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to quickly shut down the internal chatter that locks you in a battle with reality. By using ACT, you can make simple and effective statements throughout the day that redirect and restore your thinking, such as “I accept that the country is living under a heightened threat of violence. I am committed to doing all that I can to stay safe and maintain my mental health.”
3. Embrace history’s critical lesson.
We are living history everyday. In the great words of Heraclitus, “Change is the only constant.” From the Battle of Vienna to the struggle for Civil Rights, history has provided us with an inescapable lesson: conflict is necessary and inevitable. It is a part of growth for human beings as well as countries. Although painful, it can also be healing to remember that this time period will pass. Focus ample attention on preserving your mental and physical health for better days ahead.
4. Turn off the news and turn toward fresh funnels of interest and learning.
The news was designed to keep us abreast of what is happening in the world. Being informed need not require more than 10-15 minutes a day. Receiving your news updates in short bursts rather than long, uninterrupted sessions will create more pockets of emotional ventilation and less stress. Make time to enjoy fresh information unrelated to politics. The balance will be uplifting.
5. Create a protective bubble of sanctuary for yourself.
At least three times per week, plan a fun and relaxing activity that allows you to escape the worries and stress that seem ever-present today. Find a favorite parking spot at your local park and listen to music. Eat lunch while enjoying the latest audible titles. Or, plan a simple walk with a friend. The key is to make this time a non-negotiable priority.
6. Get clear on what you can control.
Live the famous Serenity Prayer: “…Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Trying to control the uncontrollable is like attempting to embrace warm Jell-O. You will be frustrated—and left with a mess.
7. Get out of your head and into your body.
The mind-body connection is undeniable. Every day, engage in at least one physical exercise activity with the intention of releasing stress from your body. Try going outside barefoot each day for three to five minutes. Let your feet touch the ground beneath them. This practice grounds your energy and will leave you feeling refreshed and down-to-earth.
This practical toolkit will support your mental health maintenance plan during these maddening times. At the end of the day, remember the words of Confucius, “Wherever you go is where you are.” Despite the chaos of the present day, our top priority is to maintain the vehicle that drives us through the winding, unpredictable, and liberating road of history—wherever the road may lead.