Navigating Troubled Waters

By: Robert Johnson, M. Ed., LMHC

Right now there is a lot of fear, distrust, contention and out right conflict in our American culture. Regardless of what side of the political divide you fall on, many people are experiencing an increase in anxiety, depression, fear and hopelessness. If you are someone who has a history of these issues they may have become more elevated.  Even without a history of these issues you might have elevated distress as you witness what is happening in our culture.  So if you do feel less content or even outright scarred, what can you do to deal with this?  Here are a few suggestions that are by no means a definitive list.   But before we go to the list, if you are feeling suicidal or have suicidal thoughts please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273 8255 or call 911.

OK on to the list of helpful actions you can take to relieve your distress.

1. Watch Less TV!  Especially the cable news stations.  Regardless of the  political slant, today’s cable news is fear based, polarized, and inflammatory.  News channels survive by selling advertising. Advertisers survive by selling products.  When your nervous system is activated, you buy more products.  Put another way, we shop more when we are scared or angry! News media is designed to get you riled up, and today there is a lot to be riled up about. If it bleeds it leads is a common driving principal in the news media. Now I am not suggesting you put your head in the sand and not be aware of what is happening in the world. I am suggesting that you limit your news consumption and if you find yourself getting agitated, STOP WATCHING and take a break. Do some of the other items listed below instead. Also while you are watching the news, be aware that it is designed to agitate you so you buy more product. Having said all this I am very much a supporter  and believer in the value of a free press, but I also know that it is never really fully free, they have to make a living also and that does restrict what we see on our news media.  Try watching other country’s  news for a change and see if the tone and methods are different.  You might find a less dramatic approach to getting news if you look beyond our USA media.

2. Take Positive Action.  Do something positive in your life.  Join or support a political cause, resolve a conflict with a family member or a friend, take a class, join a club, build a bird house….  Take an action directly or indirectly related to what you are concerned about. Anxiety is basically fear, fear is a belief that something bad might happen. If there is a direct action that you can take to mitigate your fear that is great, but if not, any positive action you take in your life will help you fell less stressed. Doing something always feels better then worrying. If you have a sleepless night then don’t fret, do something you need to do that you have been avoiding. Doing one positive action can lead to other positive actions and even small actions can change our mood, disposition, attitude and motivation.

3. Identify what fear based beliefs you have and test their credibility. Is what you are fearing really happening RIGHT NOW? If not state loudly to yourself, that is not happening right now! Sure, some fears are based on bad things happening, but many, many fears are imagined and never come to fruition. Our brain and nervous system are wired to react to threats both real and imagined.  We are wired to respond when we see a lion, even if it is only a kitty cat crossing the street. Dispute fears that are not actualized, deal with fears that are based on actual threats. It is absolutely true that really bad things can happen to you when the person you fear becomes your boss, wins an election, or moves next door. HOWEVER, much more often then not, bad things do not happen even when we think the worst. Discerning the difference between real and imagined fear is very important to good mental health, contentment, and a joyful life.

4. Go Outside.  The great outdoors really is great. Going for a walk, run, bike ride, swim, or any activity outside reduces your stress.  Even if you only went for a 20 minute walk everyday, your well being would improve.  While on your walk try adding value to it.  NOTICE THINGS AROUND YOU! Look for flowers, pine cones, interesting plants, animals, colorful patio furniture… or anything that gets you to pay attention, then maybe even ponder about it.  Children have a natural state of wonderment and are always wanting to know more about their world.  We adults can absolutely put ourselves into that state of wonderment by intending to do so.  Joy belongs to the learners, and the ponderers. Be in the wonderment of nature, science, life, and spirit.

5. Play!  Find an activity that makes you happy and joyful.  Any activity that takes your mind off of stressful thoughts.  Some examples might be learning a new hobby, playing or performing music, doing an art project, trying a new recipe, playing a game, or anything that you do that makes you smile, laugh, or feel enlightened. And by all means….Sing and Dance!

6. Exercise We all know the multi valuable concepts of exercising. Longer life, less disease, lower blood pressure, and so many more health advantages. But did you know that exercise reduces stress, anxiety and depression.  It also has a positive impact on many other mental health conditions like ADHD, Addiction Recovery, and many more. Exercise is always hard to start when you have been idle, and distress can increase our likelihood of being idle. If you want to feel better, make yourself move, when you do you might see some of your distress moving also, moving away from you!

7. Talk to a friend or group of friends. Talking reduces anxiety, stress, depression and many other difficult conditions.  But, it’s not just talking, it’s talking to people that value and support you. Pick good people to be in your life and then talk to them.

8. Listen. Listening has been proven to reduce stress, anxiety and fear.  Truly hearing another person, understanding their experience, and being empathic will reduce the intensity of  your troubled mind.

9. Talk to a Pro Seek the help of a person trained to be helpful! That might be talking to a counselor, minister, coach, or anyone who is trained to be helpful to you when the stress, fear and difficulty interfere with your life and well being. There is no shame in seeking help! If you needed to have a small tumor removed from your kidney you wouldn’t try to do it yourself and you wouldn’t ask a friend to do it.  You would have a trained medical professional do it.  Well talking to friends and self reflection are important, but sometimes that is just not enough to be restorative.

10. Write a helpful blog post.  Do you know about something, anything? Tell the world, you might be surprised how you feel afterwards and you never know what might come your way. Be respectful and you should get respect back. Whatever you do, do not incite conflict and stay out of the weeds.

I hope some of this is helpful to you.

Robert Johnson M.Ed. LMHC