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What to Remember When Your News Feed Makes You Feel Hopeless

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It’s a crap-storm out there, but you don’t need me to tell you that.

Your social media timelines and continuous news cycles do a pretty fantastic job of it. Countless images of human suffering in just about every aspect of life are shoved into our faces every day. The activist (and human being who gives a crap about our planet and the living beings on it) in me appreciates the access to information that technology has given to us. It’s necessary that we are aware of the issues before we can even begin to think about solving them. Thanks to social media, entire movements have sparked and grown — sometimes so large — that they’re able to spark great change in aspects like legislation and culture.

Life is filled with duality, so while it is such a gift that we are able to — in the palm of our hands — witness and connect to events happening from hundreds of thousands of miles away, it can also become extremely overwhelming because, sheesh! Show me that there’s a person sitting next to me who could use help carrying their bags or tell me that my friend is crying and could use someone to listen and I can easily assist them — no biggie. But, show me children scrounging for food and shelter in a war-torn city or a mother crying out in agony over losing her child to gun violence and I am always left feeling hopeless. What can I do to help? There are so many problems that need fixing at once. I don’t even know where to begin.

It’s interesting how the human mind works. It’s literally designed and trained to solve problems, so when we are faced with the obvious suffering of another our typical instincts are to feel empathy/sympathy followed by an urge to do something about it. Not just because there’s an obvious problem that logistically needs solving, but also because we are naturally attempting to get rid of the pain that feeling sorrow, anger or anxiety over whatever world epidemic or tragedy we’re witnessing brings.

As someone who lives with mental health struggles, you know this urge all too well. When you’re faced with feelings that don’t align with the ones that feel nice (joy, happiness, thrill) your brain kind of panics and goes into how can I fix this mess mode. Often when people like us experience these emotions our minds and bodies will urge us to do damaging things to remove them: like refusing to get out of bed (depression, what’s good?), shaking and hyperventilating (anxiety, is that you boo?), or even (ironically) feeling an urge to physically harm ourselves either indirectly or directly through addictions to substances, food or sex.

So, my Dear Friend — if you’re already going to battle with your own brain over emotions that, frankly, feel like shit, then imagine how much more intensely your reaction to general human suffering must be. I feel you. It’s heavy stuff, and it’s completely one thousand percent normal. You are a human being having deep compassion, sympathy and sometimes empathy for what is occurring in the world around you. Of course, you feel overwhelmed! How could you not? And how beautiful are you for trying your best to cope with your own shit while still finding space in your heart and mind for the issues and suffering of others. You’re truly remarkable, but here’s something I want you to know as it relates to these problems out here: You are not responsible for solving all of them. 

Are you following me? Yes, acknowledge them as you are introduced to them. Yes, allow your normal emotional reactions to take place. But please, do not make the mistake of assuming that you, and you alone, are meant to immediately fix it. I’m asking you to approach your daily tragedy-filled news cycle with an extreme sense of awareness and a few things to note: You are allowed to withdraw or take a break from content that’s too painful to process in a way that’s safe and healthy. Forcing yourself to suffer while observing the suffering of others solves absolutely nothing. If you’re not in a space within yourself to interact with current events in a way that doesn’t cause you to tailspin into your own darkness, then stop engaging and consider a different point: When you take care of yourself, you, in turn, take care of the world.

I’m honestly not into all the unity slogans turned bumper stickers these days, but I have to say it: at the core of our being, we are all truly one. As individuals, we make up communities which make up societies which make up the world. And yes, there’s a lot of evil and corruption going on out there, but I believe that there are more individual people who are good, compassionate and loving. When I close my eyes and think of all the people in the world who long to see justice, safety and happiness for themselves and everyone else, I am filled with hope. I imagine what it would mean if every single individual who wants the world to be a better place were to start with working on and healing themselves first and then spreading that newfound stability, love and light to the person next to them. I imagine a beautiful ripple effect that could take place if we just one-at-a-time replaced all the fucked up shit in the world. I believe a better you is a better world because you makeup and contribute to the collective consciousness and masses of bodies that make up these societies that allow for good or bad things to happen.

Now, I’m not so naïve as to think that love and peace and all that feel good stuff is all that it takes. There are legit systems and leaders in place that need to be removed and replaced on a mass scale. But, I truly believe the first step for fixing this shit is to take care of ourselves first. You see, we are all here to take a bite out of the massive cookie that is life. We each have a distinct role to play during our time here. Whether you end up being a massive world moving activist, a teacher who sparks the mind of a future game changer, an artist whose work will inspire the masses or simply a wonderful human being whose contribution is the smile you offer to the people you encounter; everyone’s number one job is getting their internal world straight first — for as I’ve said plenty of times: that is the foundation for how you navigate your life. I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying: you can’t pour water from an empty cup. Well, as you strengthen and manage your inner-world, you fill up your own cup thus leaving you with more to share and give the world and the people around you. The more full your cup, the easier it is for you to observe all these problems in a way that allows you to then approach them with clarity, confidence and the energy necessary to play your role and align with whatever your purpose is.

I’d also love to add that no role is too big or too small. Whatever you end up doing beyond taking care of yourself is needed, valid and necessary for the improvement and overall healing of humanity. This is one of the many reasons I say that your life matters. We all need you and each other to turn this ship around. I hope that you consider that and these tips to go along with your newfound perspective:

  • Mute news pages on your social media accounts when you need a break to recharge and stay safe.
  • Create a mantra to repeat when you’re faced with an overwhelming story. (Example: I alone am not responsible for solving this. It’s OK for me to feel compassion for this person/these people and not harm myself in the process.)
  • Acknowledge and accept that you’re a human being capable of feeling a super wide spectrum of emotions. Be grateful for your ability to do so.
  • Help where you can and remind yourself that you’re not responsible for solving each one of the world’s problems. Whatever you contribute is enough.
  • Meet yourself wherever you are on the emotional spectrum and take actions that best align with that feeling. If you’re barely keeping it together then focus on improving your daily functioning. You can take on discovering your personal purpose and role in this whole huge puzzle on another day. That’s totally OK.

The world needs more positive energy and helpful people. Smile where you can, donate when you can, sign petitions, have meaningful conversations, educate yourself on issues that may not directly affect you and, most importantly, take care of yourself. Do the best you can every day and have the trust and faith that that is enough. Close your eyes and imagine millions of other people doing their best as well and choose to believe that as we continue to move forward as a collective: things will slowly get better. That has to be enough for right now. I admire your big beautiful heart and its innate ability to feel such compassion. I pray you never lose that.

This is an excerpt from “Letters to Eunoia: The Book of Mental Health Pep Talks.”

Getty image via jacoblund

Originally published: May 8, 2019
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