Chronically Cheerful #7: A virtual care package.
It's ok to be having a hard time right now. Here are some ideas to cope.
August has been…a lot. Please don’t feel ashamed if you’re struggling right now.
Earlier this month, epidemiologist Larry Brilliant said the world is “closer to the beginning than we are to the end” of the pandemic. In addition to the frustration and anxiety we had during 2020, now many of us are feeling new levels of anger, resentment and exhaustion.
Then this past week, we saw a devastating earthquake in Haiti and a collapsed government in Afghanistan.
Personally, I’ve been riding waves of despair, gratitude, anger and numbness. I’ve also been trying to manage a difficult health flare. All of you are dealing with your own issues, whatever they may be, at the same time as trying to process these crises.
When the world around us and things within us feel equally overwhelming, it can be hard to know where to begin. To help you cope, here are a few actions to take both externally and internally. I hope each small step can lighten your load.
And finally, please know you’re not alone. I’d love to hear how you’re doing via email or DM on IG.
Help where you can.
If you were wondering whether or not your actions now will make a difference in the long-run: the answer is yes.
Lending your support will not only help others, but will also help you feel more empowered. If you’re a bit stuck on where to start, try these sources:
To create change in the long run, you can also ask the U.S. government to increase the refugee ceiling by signing the International Rescue Committee petition here.
Calm down your nervous system.
When our minds and bodies are under chronic stress, we can experience a constant sense of urgency and underlying tension. This can manifest as a pounding pulse, shortening of the breath, stomach tightness or racing thoughts. Not great, right?
The body's stress response system is usually self-limiting and is truly helpful when there is real and present danger. But when stressors are always present, the body’s hard-wired fight-or-flight reaction and alert system remains “on.”
You’ve probably heard someone telling you to “just breathe” when you start to stress out. But they’re not wrong! One of the best ways to physiologically get out of fight-flight and back into a rest-digest state is breath work, an active form of meditation.
When we engage in conscious breathing, we activate our parasympathetic nervous system and flood the body with oxygen, which reduces stress and lets our brain know we’re safe. Next time you notice any signs that your nervous system is really activated, try out this 4-7-8 breathing technique:
Rest the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth. Your tongue will be right behind your top front teeth.
Completely empty the lungs of air. Then, breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and exhale out of the mouth for 8 seconds.
Repeat at least four times. You can set a timer for 1 to 2 minutes to start and gradually build to 5 minutes.
I’m not saying your problems will go away with breath work. But I do promise you will feel calmer and more in control afterwards.
Other ways to calm down your nervous system are getting outside, taking a walk, spending time in the bath — activities that allows your body to tell your brain know there is no real threat (unlike much of this current news cycle).
Get back to basics.
Meeting basic needs can often be the first thing we forget to maintain during times of high stress. I love this list of questions as a guide to check in with myself.
Reach out to someone.
Social media is great for connecting, but there’s nothing like an actual phone call or in-person visit to process tough times. This week, try to proactively reach out to someone to check in — especially someone you haven’t heard from in awhile.
Studies show that we also derive more happiness from actual human encounters than virtual ones. If you’re able, see if you can meet up with someone safely for a quick pick me up. It will do you both good to be able to lean on each other.
Research shows that even brief interactions with strangers or familiar faces you don’t necessarily know can increase warm feelings of belonging to a community. The next time you’re picking up mail in your building or going for a walk on your street, give yourself and someone else a lift by waving hello or saying hi.
Stop the self-shaming.
PLEASE don’t feel shame for taking care as you need to right now.
It might seem selfish to watch your favorite Netflix show, order some takeout, or send funny memes back and worth on Instagram. But taking care, whatever that looks like, isn’t selfish. You deserve to treat yourself with compassion. And the more gently you can care for yourself, the better you can care for the collective.
Personally, I’ve been taking care the last few days by listening to pre-pandemic episodes of a favorite podcast. Yes, that’s a bit escapist. But finding little pockets of time completely unrelated to our current crises feel essential for my well-being.
I’m also thinking of returning to a pandemic hobby I began last summer — playing the Sims computer game as a search to reclaim childhood joy and nostalgia in the midst of COVID fatigue. I wasn’t the only one, apparently: The Sims 4 had its biggest year in revenue and engagement since the launch.
Remember: embracing joy and play isn’t superfluous or self-indulgent. It’s how we can counter hopelessness, strengthen inner resources and reserves, and find the courage to keep going.