Photos of cute animals as a temporary reprieve from the realities of current American society.
I am scheduled to write a post to this blog about once a month. I usually scan through the most recent headlines in public health and health care to write about a timely issue. However, of late I have been overwhelmed by the amount of bleak information in today’s news – spanning from the mildly alarming to the blind rage-inducing. Practically every morning when I turn on the news, pick up my cell phone, or review my work email inbox for my news subscription articles, I am taken on an emotional roller coaster of sadness, anger, outrage, hopelessness… and many more negative emotions than positive ones. I have found myself having to take a deep breath and steel my resolve prior to facing the day’s updates in order to not succumb to the gloom and doom they often convey.
How can you be sad while looking at a smiling dog?!?!
It was out of this personal reflection that I chose my topic for this article. I have found it increasingly more difficult to overcome the emotional low I hit when scanning the news or getting updates on the lives of friends and family. The past few weeks have been particularly difficult for me: News of the death of my uncle. News of the death of my dear friend’s 18-year old nephew to senseless gun violence. I loaned money to friends affected by the government shutdown who are desperately trying to make ends meet. I watched in disgust as a smirking teenager stared down a Native American elder, then filled with fury as I read reports and listened to comments excusing and justifying his behavior and that of his cohorts. I reflected on Trayvon Martin, and how there was no such rapid rise to justify his act of “self-defense.” I thought of all of the youth at the lunch counters in the 1960s and the lack of support for their “freedom of assembly and expression.” Last night I watched a news report about a woman having to choose between paying for her chemotherapy treatments OR her rent, as she is not currently getting paid due to the shutdown. I watched her story through tear-filled eyes, then immediately turned off the television when it ended. I was done. I had no more energy for anymore news coverage. I told Alexa to play some white noise while I sat in the dark and tried…. for another 2 hours… to go to sleep.
I know that I am not alone in this nearly perpetual state of angst. Nearly all of my friends and co-workers share similar stories. During social gatherings we often quickly change the topic of conversations away from current events to something more lighthearted, since we are inundated with the frustrations of the current social climate as part of our work. No need to carry that over into happy hour. I often wonder if others are as cognizant of the need for them to detach from the day-to-day negativity to ensure it is not becoming a consistent burden on their emotional health. I can only speak on some of the tactics that work for me, so here goes:
I go to the gym… A lot. It helps me expend some of the built-up anger-energy.
I have muted, blocked, or unfollowed certain people on social media. If I wouldn’t want to stand in the same room with you, I do not want you taking up any of my cyber space either. This includes people from all social/racial/political leanings AND family members. If I find you obtuse, ignorant, or otherwise exhausting, I need you gone so my energy can be better spent on something/someone who brings value, not burden.
I reflect on the good around me: the people I care about, those working to effect change, and the ability I have to also combat negative outcomes by voting, and educating and empowering others. I find comfort in knowing that there is ALWAYS hope, and to NEVER lose sight of that fact.
Puppies. Hamsters. Rabbits. Their ability to induce a smile will never let you down!
This may be the most difficult coping mechanism for some, but I stay in the fight. I keep reading the news. I keep following the work of advocates. I refuse to close myself off from the real world, because whether I like it or not, that is not effective, and I feel that checking out would instill in me a sense of hopelessness that would certainly do me no good. I do, however, adjust my exposure to depressing information based on my current mood. So, if I see a headline that upsets me on a day that I am already spent, I may let that article go unread until I can better handle the information. Why kick myself when I am already down?
I guess my main point with this article is to remind all of you who have similar feelings that you are not the only one. But, our society needs us to forge ahead, be the ones who can sort through the misinformation and vitriol, and put in the work to be the change we want to see in our world. However, we must also take care of our own well-being and not get consumed by the adversity that seems to be compounding by the minute. It is OK and NECESSARY to step away, take a breath, and look out for number one: the one in the mirror. Find your happy place, and schedule regular trips there. In the meantime, I hope the cutie pies that joined me on this post made your day brighter!
The views reflected in this expert column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law or Georgetown University. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.