How To Care For Yourself During Times of Stress
by Dr. Erica Mesnard, Healing Solutions Counselor
With all that goes on in our world and regarding the current crisis in the Middle East, it can be easy to forget about our self-care and become overwhelmed by global stress. This is compounded by the discomfort of sitting with “the unknown” of what is to come, which is fuel for anxiety. While it is important to be a knowledgeable and active citizen of the world as it relates to current events, it is equally important to slow down and check in with your own needs. Many of us are familiar with the phrase “you can’t pour from an empty cup:” in essence, we can’t take care of those around us or be as engaged with our world as we could be if we are drained, ourselves.
Many of these tips (if not all) are probably ones you’ve heard before—there’s a reason for that. These tips come from evidence-based mental health practices, including cognitive behavioral therapy.
- Limit social media and news consumption. Research tells us that overuse of social media can increase our risk of developing depression and anxiety; it also can lead to physical symptoms, including nausea, headaches, muscle tension, and fatigue. When you find yourself reaching for your device of choice, it’s a good idea to check in with yourself about your goal (I.e., “why am I wanting to get online?”). Social media can be helpful for staying in touch with friends and family, but “doom scrolling,” or scrolling through bad news post after bad news post for hours at a time, isn’t helpful. Set limits for yourself regarding how much time you spend online, turn off unnecessary push notifications and try to disengage from the 24-hour news cycle. Consider choosing one or two news sources you trust and set some structure for how you engage with news. It is absolutely understandable to want to know what’s happening in the world around us, but drowning in news headlines is overwhelming. For every “bad news” story, try to find something “good.”
- Make space for your feelings. This means that, as a human person, you are going to feel feelings. Sometimes those feelings are pleasant, sometimes…. not so much. Making space for our feelings means acknowledging the emotion that has come up (whether pleasant or not), and rather than ignoring or minimizing that emotion, we need to let it be. A way I like to think about this is to imagine an emotion knocking on your door. You could slam the door in that feeling’s face or pretend you didn’t hear the knock or yell at the feeling to go away, but that feeling will come back. Consider inviting that feeling in for a cup of tea, or take the feeling for a walk. Maybe that feeling likes to listen to music or dance. Essentially, give that feeling what it needs, and it will pass when it’s ready.
- It can be easy to get so overwhelmed by all of the pain and suffering in our big, big world. As individuals, it may feel like an impossible task to make a global impact through our own actions. This can feel defeating and hopeless; a way to combat this is to get involved on a smaller, local scale. Find causes in your own community that you can be involved with. This local engagement can have ripple effects, impact the world around us, and help us feel that we are being effective and doing something.
- Be honest with friends and family about how you’re feeling. The default response for most of us when we’re asked by friends and family how we are is, “I’m fine; how are you?” Imagine the connections you could make with people around you if you are willing to be a little bit vulnerable and say, “I’m having a tough day,” or “I’m worried today.” By allowing yourself to be vulnerable, you allow the other person to be as well—and this is how we make true connections. We all want to know that we’re not the only ones feeling afraid, lost, or deeply sad.
- Don’t neglect self-care or “me time.” Again, we can’t pour from empty cups. The world continues to spin, even when it’s in crisis. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself and your well-being—yoga class, movie night with friends, or even simply being still and quiet on your own. Look into mindfulness and gratitude practices; there are quite literally hundreds out there, and they are designed to improve mood, reduce anxiety, and promote resiliency.
- Finally, if you notice major changes in your mood, appetite, or sleep that last for more than two weeks and are impacting your functioning at work, school, or home, you may consider speaking with your physician or other health care provider as this could indicate the onset of a mental health disorder like clinical depression or anxiety. The therapists at Healing Solutions Counseling at JFS are here if you need us.