In the last two years, I’ve experienced what feels like recurring whiplash from the state of affairs in our country. The news continues to keep me reeling; and just when I think I’ve caught my breath, I’m hit with something else. I know that I’m not alone in this: a number of friends, colleagues, and clients have reported feeling similarly. Most recently, my emotional whiplash is from the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, and facing his potential confirmation.
Since Trump was elected, I have found myself attempting to cope with our current reality in different ways. I’ve tried arming myself with all the information I could get my hands on (and there was always more available, so I could gorge on the news until I felt nauseous). Devouring the news gave me something to do, which was compelling in times when I felt powerless, and I’ve worked with clients who cope similarly. We’ve talked about how one may feel responsible to keep watch, to bear witness to the injustices around us. In these discussions, we’ve found that this can become a full-time job. It soon became clear that bearing witness 24 hours a day was not sustainable, and that it would often exacerbate the feelings of hopeless and helplessness.
So what do we do?
I am not suggesting that, if being informed causes you to feel overwhelmed and hopeless, that the answer is ignorance. That was how I coped with the news cycle after September 11, when I was in high school and everything seemed impossible to face. The adult me does not want to be complacent, and I understand that complacency would not solve the challenges we are facing.
So for me, I’ve decided to approach our political climate the same way I approach everything in my life. The answer lies in being intentional. Because when I am intentional about how I approach problems, they become more manageable.
Being intentional might mean limiting how much news you consume daily, making a conscious choice about what form it takes, and maybe even allowing yourself some distance from it at times. Maybe instead of reading articles about current affairs as well as listening to political radio on your commute on a daily basis, you choose either radio or news articles for that day, so you can give yourself some breathing room. Being intentional may mean that you pay attention to how you are feeling when you engage with current events, and that you engage in self-care when you are feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. And it may mean finding ways to exert the power that you do have.
Feeling hopeless and powerless could make us want to bury our heads in the sand, give up, and stay in bed. But I encourage you to get up, find a way to take care of yourself first and foremost, and then from there, to consider what action you can take to make a difference.
So with all that we are facing today, I want to encourage you with this: what it would look like for you to practice being mindful of how you are feeling, and to approach our current reality with intention?