Each month I do a “Mental Health Monday” Q&A on social media, and each month some version of this question comes up: “How am I supposed to handle the sadness/fear/anger about the [insert most recent horrible current events] going on in the world around me?” Honestly, I feel this way too sometimes. The news is pretty grim these days. And yet we have to go on working, parenting, taking care of ourselves, enjoying our lives in spite of the world seemingly burning around us.
This is so hard isn’t it? It is sad to see such large-scale problems impacting our world, and then head into our offices or onto Zoom meetings and try to ignore the news we read, or drop our children off at camp or school and wonder how their futures – that day, that week, or years from now- will be impacted. It can feel like carrying the weight of the world around with us, making it difficult to get through our routines.
Having fear, sadness, anger or bitterness about the state of the world right now, is a normal, reasonable response: you don’t have to ignore or repress that. If your emotional “backpack” is feeling really heavy, let yourself feel it. Pause and look through what’s inside. Is there anything you’d like to do with the thoughts or feelings? Anything you’d like to let go of before you put the backpack back on? Let some of the thoughts out through journaling and talking about it with friends or a therapist. Also use some of that emotional energy as fuel towards some type of helpful actions, like making changes to your home routines to be more environmentally friendly, or volunteering for a nonprofit that aligns with your values.
Being positive isn’t a replacement for feeling anxious about real problems like climate change or gun violence or social injustice- it would feel fake, or even complicit or harmful, to go on like nothing is wrong. We can’t avoid our discomfort. Rather, positivity is something we cultivate in addition to our negative emotions, to help absorb the discomfort, to be able to have balance and still enjoy the present we are living in. We do that through being mindful and present with positive experiences and emotions that come up during the day – in the moments that we set down the heavy emotional backpack, or in spite of carrying it.
Tune in to what it feels like to see your child or partner smile at you, pause and fully notice the taste of your food as you’re eating it, take a mindful walk and count as many beautiful things as you can see or smell or hear, etc. If you’d like, start a gratitude list or jar as a personal or family activity. Set an intention to do this for 3 weeks until it becomes more automatic/habitual. We are absolutely able and allowed (and I strongly encourage you!) to feel joy, find gratitude, see beauty, take delight, laugh, and *very importantly* to rest, even while carrying a heavy load. What we focus on will grow- like strengthening a muscle in our minds. In this way, we can develop a more positive mindset, and not feel overwhelmed by the events in the world around us, even as we carry the weight of it.