The reality of our lives in a world with 24-hour news coverage is that we are very likely to encounter an upsetting story in the media. At times, these events can unsettle us to a point where it feels difficult to return to daily activities like parenting or working. Here are a few simple directives that may help you feel more centered and able to go about your day.
Feel the Feelings: In the carpool line or cooking dinner is likely not where you’d choose to process strong emotions, but sometimes that’s where they strike. Try telling yourself (out loud whenever possible) about when you can process the feelings later on. Something like “Right now isn’t a good time to feel this sad, but I can tonight after the kids are in bed.” Maybe you can get away from the office for a 15-minute break in a private area. That works too.
As long as you give yourself permission to feel the feelings later (and make good on it), pressing them down temporarily can help you navigate a time that needs your full focus. It’s also key that this scheduled processing has a time limit. Give yourself 20 minutes to sit with your feelings. Journal, cry along to an emotional song, curse, or yell in anger - however you choose to express yourself. Set a timer or have a loved one interrupt you after 20 minutes. Say out loud “I am putting this away again. I can come back to these feelings another time if I need to.” Then, you can move on to grounding.
Ground Yourself: You’ve given your feelings free range for a bit, and now it’s time to move on with your day. Feeling all that comes with emotional news stories can be exhausting or overwhelming. Grounding yourself can help remind your brain of your present situation and environment rather than the emotional one you’ve been visiting.
Meditations can help, as can deep breathing. Try sitting with your feet (barefoot is ideal) against a firm surface. Imagine a bright, strong tether coming from the arch of your foot and traveling through the earth to secure you to the center. Imagery of being a rooted, strong tree can be helpful, as can doing a body awareness scan. Mantras such as “These feelings were only signs of my empathy, not my reality. They were only visiting,” can help if you were feeling emotionally overwhelmed. Whatever your method, the idea is to pull yourself away from the strong emotions and back into the present moment.
Do Something Physical: When we feel strong feelings, our sympathetic nervous system gets activated. Our bodies go into fight/flight/fawn/freeze response, flooding our systems with excess cortisol and a level of physical readiness we do not need. It’s essential to discharge this energy from our bodies to help us regulate and re-engage our parasympathetic nervous system.
This can be big physical movements like an exercise routine or weightlifting. It can be an easy walk outdoors where the fresh air and change in scenery can help calm us. It can also be a silly dance with our kids, singing loudly and moving by ourselves to a favorite song, or sexual intimacy. Don’t feel intimidated by the suggestion to move. It doesn’t have to be complicated and will go a long way.
Connect to Others: In the age of social media, this part can be tricky. Be intentional about how you engage with others. Getting onto social media and being flooded with additional information, opinions on the story, or even breaking news can reactivate what you’ve been working to calm.
Instead, send a thoughtful text to a friend about a good memory or inside joke. Play a board game or read with your child. Ask a neighbor about how their prized garden is doing. The point of this phase is to remind yourself that you are not alone and there is more to engage with outside of the upsetting news story.
Limit Access to Media Where Possible: Give yourself a break from social media and the news. If you have friends who might reach out to discuss the story with you, proactively let them know you are taking a break from your phone.
Read a book, work on a craft, play with your pet, or try out a makeup tutorial on YouTube. You may also choose to watch a comfort movie/show or listen to uplifting music. Anything that engages your brain in a playful way and takes advantage of being regulated without exposing you to more information is the goal.
Engage Your Desire to Make an Impact: This may be a next-day step, depending on how long the above takes you. When you have processed your feelings and are once again regulated, you may choose to do something, especially if helplessness, hopelessness, or outrage were part of your feelings. There are plenty of ways to make an impact that helps you feel connected to others and remain grounded.
Donate money to an organization that provides support for the kind of issue noted in the story. Write to a congressperson, sign a petition, or join an activism group if applicable. Help make a care package going to the affected community. Find an organization local to you that brings about a change that is positive, like planting trees or mentoring youth.
Maintaining awareness of current events is important, but so is your mental health.
It’s normal-- and empathetic — to be impacted by devastating news stories. Give yourself the same kindness you would show to a friend who was feeling as you do.
Hopefully, these steps help you bounce back, but if you find yourself unable to return to your usual emotional state after a day or two, it’s worth reaching out to a professional. Here at Playful Wisdom we strive to provide you with knowledge, heart, and awareness to support your family wellness.
Take care of yourself, and have self-compassion in these difficult times.
by Morgan Teachworth-White & Cary M. Hamilton