7 mindfulness-based strategies to stop the spiral into despair

Constantly following the news in an age of gun violence, war and political divisions can be overwhelming. And amid our many ongoing challenges — pandemics, climate change, economic uncertainty — it’s understandable to feel sad, angry, and anxious.

As a clinical psychologist dedicated to giving people the tools to deal with intense emotions, I know how difficult it is to stay positive – or simply balanced – while cares deeply about our world. Some of my clients say they can’t stop doomscrolling, others engage in unhealthy behaviors to correct it, and many bounce between the two extremes.

But you can anchor yourself if you feel as though you are falling into despair about the state of the world. I rely on these seven mindfulness-based strategies for myself and my clients to stay grounded.

If you can be correct label emotions you are encountering in the moment, you can reduce its power in your body and Brain. Name any emotion you’re feeling, whether it’s sadness, fear, anger, disgust, or guilt – and the extent to which you’re experiencing it. Say it out loud, use a mood tracking app like Daylio, Reflectly, or Moodnotes, or write your feelings in a journal.

Try not to wait until Emotions have reached their peak, However. Make it a habit to name your feelings as they come. Tracking their intensity gives you a chance to slow down before you reach the boiling point and lose yourself in worry or pondersnap at someone or approach a substance without thinking.

If you try to avoid your emotions, says Melanie Harned, VA Puget Sound Health System psychologist and author of the book “Treatment of Trauma in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.” me. When you are emotionally affected by a news story, take a moment to notice what you are thinking, doing, and feeling in your body. Choose what will be most helpful in the moment – whether it’s creating a window to feel your emotions for a few minutes, without trying to change them or, if you’re working on a high-level task urgent, plan to review the painful news at a time you may be grieving.

One way to improve your emotional capacity is to remember that they can fluctuate quickly. One exercise that helps my clients stop worrying about getting stuck in their emotions is to watch a series of short, emotional scenes—the bed scene from “The Champ,” followed by a video. music for “Happy by Pharrell Williams”. If you try this, you may find yourself in tears one moment, then dancing or smiling in your chair the next moment. The goal is to understand how that same moment can apply to the variety of emotions you experience when you’re still present throughout the day.

Understandably, after a tragedy, you may also feel like narrowing down your life to avoid painful emotions. For example, after learning about mass violence at a supermarket, as we did in the mass shootings in Boulder and Buffalo, we naturally feel uncomfortable going to the grocery store. Remember that allowing yourself to experience your emotions, including fear, as you return to the routine will eventually improve your anxiety, Dr. Harned says.

You can feel motivated to make a difference and help without over-identifying the pain of others. “We are taught that the way to help others is through empathy, but that can be a trap,” said George Everly Jr., a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health who specializes in interventions. and crisis recovery, said.

In her work to alleviate humanitarian burnout, Dr. Everly encourages receive point of viewor try to understand the world from someone else’s point of view in this moment, instead of wallowing in their feelings, blurring the lines between what they’re going through and yours.

Sharon Salzberg, a leading teacher of mindfulness and author of “Real Change: Mindfulness to Heal Yourself and the Different World.”

One research of more than 7,500 physicians found that understanding and acknowledging a patient’s emotions reduced burnout, while over-identifying the patient’s experience predicted physicians’ emotional burnout . It takes practice, but if you observe yourself feeling intoxicated, try taking a few breaths and then transitioning to a more cognitive form of interest, as opposed to fully engaging in it. hurt.

By considering ways to help others, you’ll regain some control in a world that can make you feel overwhelmed while improve your own happiness. Work purposefully and continuously like donating, volunteer or politically attractive has been shown to reduce risk of falling into depression and enhance happiness.

Shelly Tygielski, an activist and author of the book “Sit Down to Rise Up,” says: “When we are motivated and rise up with a tangible, positive action, it is virtually impossible for us to fall. into despair.

Invest a moment to think about ways you’d like to contribute to causes that matter to you. As we strive to correct injustices in the world, “we need to balance our compassion and our efforts with the wisdom that things can take time. They can take a long time, but sometimes our efforts are planting a seed,” said Ms. Salzberg.

It may feel natural to use dramatic statements like “I am devastated” when something terrible happens in the world. That’s especially true on social media, where extreme language can be validated by other people’s “likes” or comments. But our words and interpretations have a powerful impact on how we feel and behave.

While it’s helpful to allow ourselves to respect our feelings, our emotions escalate more intensely when we exaggerate situations that are already very distressing. Tragic thoughts can trigger or exacerbate negativity emotions in many people. So consider replacing thoughts or phrases like “The world is falling apart” with “I need to do something to improve X.”

Resilience, the ability to function after a stressful event, often depends on more positive emotions and your day’s actions to improve your ability to deal with challenges. Connect with people who inspire you and schedule hobbies that might interest you. Protecting your mental health is not selfish; It allows you to be the best version of you, not the exhausted version, says Dr Everly, who always makes time to exercise even when he’s at work. disaster relief.

In addition to adding happiness-promoting activities, practice attending to moments when positive emotions naturally arise in your day, whether it’s your morning coffee or spending time with someone you love. you love.

“When the news cycle is dominated by terrible things, we can lose sight of the good in the world and in our own lives,” says Dr. Harned.

But if you’re struggling to find moments of peace and find yourself experiencing sadness or anxiety that is affecting your ability to function, contact a therapist who can give you evidence-based tools to improve your health.

Think about specific times of the day, such as morning and mid-afternoon, when you want to catch up on the news, rather than constantly scrolling or keeping it in the background. Rest doesn’t mean you don’t care; it’s a pause so you can go back to facing the world’s challenges and trying to make a real difference.

It is important to always be mindful of the causes that are important to us during times of relative quiet. “We feel the pain deeply, then we forget,” Ms. Salzberg said. She suggests finding a way to engage to solve that problem for us, even if they’re not at the top of our news feed.

Allow yourself to feel pain and pleasure without difficulty. That’s how your emotions contribute to real healing. Dr. Harned reminds me of an analogy that Marsha LinehanA psychologist and pioneer in mindfulness-based behavioral therapy, teaches: You can visit a cemetery without building a home there.

Jenny Taitz is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the author of several books, including an upcoming book on stress.

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