It’s a difficult world and a difficult time
Most of us would agree we live in challenging times. Thanks to the abundance of media and devices, many of us begin each day by learning about the frightening, upsetting things happening in our country and around the world. If we begin each day like this, we are likely to struggle with mood for the rest of the day.
Those who know me know that I feel deeply invested in social justice. And also I feel deeply invested in personal, emotional wellness. Remaining committed to both of these can be difficult, and I’d like to offer some tips and perspective about holding both of these values.
Other times have been difficult too
For me, it sometimes helps to remember that other times in human history have also been very challenging. Marginalized people have suffered oppression; the goodness of human souls has struggled to combat the evils of corrupt power. This is far from a good thing, I realize, but it does give me some helpful perspective to remember that the anxiety of our current era is not as unique as it seems.
What is significantly unique about our era is our access to information. The phone in our pocket brings us real-time updates about injustices occurring worldwide. Honestly, our humble minds, hearts, souls, and bodies were not designed to hold this constant barrage of information. I am all for progress in communication technology, but these advances put the onus on the individual to keep guard over their information intake.
It is not self-centered to realize that we need boundaries in order to maintain our emotional wellness. It is also not self-centered to ask for help with this.
Social injustice and access to wellness
Before I move on and suggest my tips, I want to make a couple important acknowledgments.
Social injustice directly affects individual lives, including access to wellness support. Disparities in employment and socio-economic status, which result from real-world discrimination (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.) mean that people who are marginalized are less likely to have money for therapy (or other wellness services). This reality matters a great deal, as those who may need therapeutic space are also those who struggle most to get it. At Discovery Counseling, our practices are informed by this reality. We accept insurance whenever possible; we offer sliding scales; and we offer reduced frequency of visits to lessen expense.
As an individual, I myself move through life with a great deal of privilege. The privilege I experience on multiple axes means that it’s easier for me to suggest these tips than it may be for you to put them into practice. It also means, in my opinion, that I am charged with the responsibility of being a trustworthy, active, effective ally to those whose movement in this world is more difficult.
With those acknowledgments stated, I do have some offerings on the subject of emotional wellness amidst difficult times. Tuning into the news, especially as it’s packaged by mainstream media outlets, is a recipe for demoralization. Finding ourselves demoralized is detrimental, not only because our own moods suffer, but also because we lose our ability to be effective in our advocacy.
Curating our exposure to news, shifting our perspective on our lives and our wellness, cultivating daily beauty in our own lives – these tasks are doable and necessary for both personal and political reasons.
Choosing our lens
To see the beauty in our lives, I offer two paradoxical / complimentary strategies: to broaden our lens and to narrow our lens. Allow me to explain how I understand each.
To broaden our lens, we can reflect upon our lives as situated in a larger, cosmic unfolding story. For some, this reflection evokes spiritual ideas, and for some it evokes existential ideas. People’s relationships to these ideas are very personal, and I want to invite and affirm all the ideas that promote peace and compassion, without bias for or against religion. Ultimately, we all ask ourselves variations on the same question – what meaning do we make about being alive in this time and in this place? Much is beyond our control. Some is within our control or at least within our influence. Giving back to your community is one way to broaden your lens. It seems to me that the very best we can hope for is to live our best life given the circumstances and resources we have been granted.
Narrowing our lens means choosing to focus on ourselves and our inner circle rather than obsess about things we can’t change. This doesn’t mean we abandon activism; rather, it means we balance our commitment to activism with our commitment to personal wellness. You can think of yourself as the curator of your own life, like a curator in an art museum, and be selective about the pieces with which you surround yourself.
1. Choose media carefully. If your mood plummets every time you scroll through your Facebook feed, consider disengaging from Facebook. If the Netflix show everybody’s talking about has deeply upsetting content, don’t watch it. Think about the sources of the news that you read, and be curious about the angle of its authors. Decide how often and at what times of day you will allow exposure to different types of media, and stick to your decision.
2. Choose activism carefully. Personally, I believe activism is part of wellness. Acting in alignment with our deeply held values is nourishing for the soul. For this reason, I don’t advocate complete ignorance of world issues. Not only does that lend more power to destructive forces, it weakens our personal wellness by surrendering to fear or powerlessness. As our emotional energy allows, we can engage with the issues we care about and embody the healing effects of our sense of purpose. What’s important here is that we do so in mindful, intentional ways. From among the many issues affecting our world, we choose to focus on the few that matter most to our psyches or the few in which we can have the greatest impact. Keep guard over your energy, and channel it in ways that are productive. Trust that others in the world are taking on the things that you yourself cannot. None of us is a superhero.
3. Cultivate personal happiness through relationships and self care. Let go of the idea that it is selfish to feel pleasure or joy, and give yourself the gifts of the little things that make you happy. Ask yourself: What small things in life get me through each day? On my list would be cats, classical guitar music, conversations with my daughter, and queer feminist media. What would be on your list? Whatever those things are, let yourself have those things. Let yourself enjoy the things right in front of you, even when the world outside your door is difficult.
You are worthy of a beautiful life.
Amidst difficult times, curating your beautiful life can be a balance of purpose through activism and joy through daily pleasures. This is easier said than done, for sure. But remember, it is also okay to ask for help with this, whether from friends and loved ones or from a professional counselor.
About the Author
Renee is a transgender-affirming psychotherapist who specializes in helping clients navigate gender transition journeys and offers ongoing support for a broad array of other issues. Using a relational, trauma-informed approach, Renee works with people to gain insight, to practice coping strategies and to experience growth and healing. Renee is passionate about advocacy and empowerment - writing is one way she influences the world to be more inclusive and compassionate - knowledge is power! Renee is an LPC-Intern Supervised by Sara L. Weber, LPC-S, CEDS-S