Managing the Daily Stress of Living in an Uncertain World

Are you as overwhelmed as I am with the fact that every time we turn on the TV or look at our phones or computers, there is ANOTHER major issue of catastrophic proportion?  I sometimes feel like I’m running on overload and it’s not fun

I don’t believe what I’m about to say is taking sides (other than the side of love and equality for all); but I’m aware that many people see some of my blogs as political. My purpose is always to go below the surface to the emotional and spiritual fallout these external events are triggering for us.

We can’t seem to escape the bombardment of news any more.  Those of us who want to keep up with it all so we can do our part to keep our democratic way of life alive feel overwhelmed often.  I don’t know about you, but I find myself almost longing for the “good ol days” when all we had to worry about was the transgender bathroom issue or whether there was voter fraud.

I’m only partially kidding. The issues that we have been focused on in recent years have been overwhelming and exhausting, regardless of which side of the political system we’ve been on.  But that’s my point.  As frustrating as it was, it used to just be partisan politics.

What we are now facing has nothing to do with politics. The very real danger of losing our way of life, has been endangered for much longer than most of us realized, because of the interference of another country into our election. And  every week it’s even more clear that other areas in our government, computer systems, other infrastructure and just our way of life  have also been at huge risk. And so far, they’re accomplishing what they wanted – we’re all choosing sides and, in some ways, becoming weaker as a people.

Just mentioning this in the presence of some people can start an argument.  I get it!  I’ve said for months that I feel like every day I’m giving credence to a conspiracy theory.  And on top of all that news, we each have the daily stress we’ve always had – just making ends meet and managing our own responsibilities. It’s just too much at times.  The reality is that our world has always been uncertain.  We’re just all VERY conscious of it now.

The  general purpose of my weekly blog is to help people manage their mental/emotional/physical health.  So why do I focus on social issues more these days? Because my clients keep bringing them into our sessions! And because of my holistic view, it’s clear to me that it’s ALL interconnected.  We are spiritual beings having human experiences, and some days it’s HARD to keep that balance!

I’ve always championed certain causes actively, but for the most part, I didn’t talk about political stuff much.  I’ve tried to focus on those things that are shining the light on humanity and showing the positive strides we’re making. I still do that as much as possible.  I think we all need that – now more than ever. But back in the “good ol’ days”, I didn’t follow the news; in fact I purposely didn’t watch it and suggested the same to clients (especially those with high anxiety).  My belief was “if anything really big happens, someone will let me know and then I can deal with it.” It wasn’t an attempt to avoid anything, just a belief that I didn’t need to let that negative energy into my life.  I stayed well enough informed that I cared if some crisis took place, and responded in whatever way felt appropriate (prayer, donating money, food or items; holding those affected in loving light and energy, etc). Regardless of whether I agreed with things being done at the governmental level, I felt safe that enough of those we had entrusted to protect the constitution and our security had our best interest at heart.

I still believe it is appropriate to weigh how much of that negative energy we each want to allow in. And we each have to decide how much attention we want to give it.

But guess what – something really big HAS happened!

So, whatever your stance is on what is going on within national and international security – I’ll leave that to you to determine.  But there is something I would like you to understand: we do have to recognize that what is going on right now IS affecting each of us, whether we are actively responding to it or trying to pass it off as just more politics.  I don’t say that to worry anyone; it’s just an honest statement.  I’ve never believed that sticking our heads in the sand and avoiding something that feels bad is a good idea.  I have lived by the rule that WHAT WE RESIST, PERSISTS. So I do believe in meeting things head-on, facing them, acknowledging they exist, and then determining how to address them.  Anything we ignore, just gains more and more power over us.

But we do have to slow down occasionally – shut off the TV, put down the phone, work out to shake it off, take a breath, walk in nature, and/or pray or meditate for a while to get ourselves back to some semblance of balance.

There are several ways to manage the stress (some of which I just mentioned), but I believe the first step is to change our relationship to the stress itself.  As an example, I’m a long-time meditator, and I’m old enough to have begun to have some pretty constant pain from time to time. So one of the methods I’ve used to help manage my pain is meditation. Something I’ve learned through this process is to recognize that non-pain is not necessarily a default setting.

What that means, is if I go back and long for “the good ol days” when everything wasn’t always painful, I’m going to constantly be noticing and agonizing over the fact that I have pain NOW. Or if I look forward and catastrophize that not only am I always going to feel this pain, but that, as I age, it’s only going to get worse, I’ll become more anxious and fearful, my body will tense up and the pain will be exacerbated!

The other option is to stay in the moment with it; acknowledging the pain but not owning it.  When I see it as “my pain,” it becomes part of “my story.”  Instead, if I gently put my awareness where I feel it (as if I’m holding something very fragile), I can witness it as just a sensation without trying to make anything happen.  This puts some distance between the pain and me and it’s easier not to identify with it; hence easier to let it go.

Just substitute whatever stress or emotion you’re dealing with now for my pain in the above scenario. Action that stems from feeling threatened and fearful only creates more fear, hate and violence; therefore more stress and pain. In issues with other people, or with the things that are going on politically, I acknowledge some of it is kind of scary. But when we act out of fear, we aren’t living consciously. We are reacting to what things appear to be, without delving deeper to try to understand where others are coming from or what really is going on. (And, as I said before on the political front, we can become weaker as a nation and aren’t as strong as we would be if we were united together working towards the same causes).  It’s something that takes constant monitoring. The only way we can do that and stay sane is to stay in the moment with it and respond, rather than impulsively react.

Changing our relationship with the stress also involves looking at it from a different perspective.  I get the “Resistance” movement, and I like it in a lot of ways – because it HAS united many of us. I just I wish it would have taken on a different name that has a little more positive tone (like “Persistence”)? Remember one of my first comments here – WHAT WE RESIST, PERSISTS.  What we fight, digs in and very often becomes more powerful. I’ve never liked the thought of fighting AGAINST anything.  But if I am marching FOR freedom; FOR inclusiveness; FOR those in the worst circumstances to have the same rights as those in the best – then I’m all in!

As Martin Luther King, Jr said,  Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Fighting hate with hate is never productive.  Don’t misunderstand, there’s nothing wrong with the anger many of us feel these days. It’s just a human emotion – and usually a warning sign that something is not fair, or that expectations are irrational or unreachable. It’s the aggressive behavior and spiteful attitude that often accompanies the anger that morphs into hate. THAT’s what we need to watch for.

So, it’s OK (actually healthy) to feel the stress and anger, and whatever else all this triggers for you.  But don’t let it immobilize you.  Acknowledge it and let it empower you. Channel it into energy that is spent for the improvement of a situation. (But do so with balance,  Determine which issues are most important to you, and stick to those if you want to be active.  Take a break occasionally, and distract yourself with fun or otherwise interesting activities, rest, or some of the other coping skills I mentioned earlier).

We can’t be the Light that we are meant to be if we hold even one other person in contempt and darkness. It’s difficult, but we all have the responsibility to find ways to make this life on earth work.  Many of us believe the best way to do that is through kindness, education and love. When we are challenged by those who don’t believe the same way, we may have to do some fighting.  But please don’t fight against them, fight FOR that healthcare, to save the earth, or the unity, democracy and peace we all dream of.