Note: this post was updated in October 2022 to reflected an expansion of SHWC eligibility to in-person SOE students.
There’s a lot going on these days: a global pandemic, widespread protests against police violence and racism, important elections, unprecedented weather events, international conflicts, and more.
Any one of these events makes for stressful times; the combination of all of them can be traumatic.
For example, an American Psychological Association survey found that one in three Americans (32%) said sometimes they are so stressed about the coronavirus pandemic that they struggle to make even basic decisions (e.g., what to wear, what to eat, etc.).
So it’s not just you – it’s (almost) everyone. This time in history is legitimately stressful, but we have strategies for maintaining your emotional equilibrium when current events bring up negative feelings.
Get ahead of it if you can.
More often than not, a scary news day comes out of nowhere and you just have to do your best to manage any emotions that arise. However, when you can, think ahead and make a plan for days that are likely to be stressful (like an election day or the anniversary of an event), and make sure those plans include relaxing activities, connecting with like-minded people, and thoughtful news consumption. Speaking of which…
LIMIT YOUR NEWS CONSUMPTION.
Set aside regular and brief times to review reliable news outlets. When you’re done, stop and do something else. The same advice applies to social media, both for passive consumption of what others are posting and active interaction (e.g., fighting with people on the Internet).
If you find yourself regularly feeling upset during or after consuming the news or social media, step away from those platforms more frequently.
Live in the moment and focus on what you can control. This is hard if you’re constantly taking in new information, which is why cutting back on media consumption is the first step.
The worrying that accompanies anxiety can feel productive, but often it isn’t. Rumination has no effect on external events, and a distinctly negative effect on your mental health, so avoid it when possible.
Do things you enjoy to self-soothe and channel your thoughts away from unproductive worrying. Exercise, cooking, making art, spending time with loved ones, prayer, meditation (try the Calm app), or spending time in nature are all great options.
If you find it difficult to stop ruminating, try SilverCloud, where you will find a series of interactive learning modules that teach cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques. Full-time Hopkins students over the age of 18 can access this platform for free. It even has specific modules on coping with anxiety, stress, and challenging times.
Get enough sleep, enough nutritious food, and enough rest. The gravity of current events can make it feel like you cannot take breaks, but doing so will rejuvenate you.
You can’t do everything, but you can almost certainly do something. Don’t let stress paralyze you so much that it prevents you from sharing your time, energy, and unique talents with the world.
When you’re experiencing anxiety about a particular issue, try to think about what you can actually do to address the problem, in large and small ways. Changing personal habits – like living more sustainably in response to global warming – or becoming involved in organizations that align with your values are accessible and effective ways to manage those feelings.
Keep in mind that involvement looks different for everyone. Attending protests or knocking on doors for candidates is doable for some people; others find less visible but equally important ways to contribute.