7 Mindfulness-Based Strategies to Stop Getting Desperate

After incessant news in an age of gun violence, war and political division can become overwhelming. And among our many current challenges — pandemics, climate change, economic uncertainty — it’s understandable to feel sad, angry, and anxious.

As a clinical psychologist who specializes in giving people the tools to deal with strong emotions, I know how difficult it can be to stay positive or just levelheaded while caring deeply about our world. Some of my clients say they can’t stop doom, others act unhealthy to disconnect from it, and many jump between the two extremes.

But you can anchor yourself if you feel like you’re getting desperate about the state of the world. I rely on these seven mindfulness strategies for myself and my clients to stay grounded.

If you can exactly indicate emotion you are experiencing at the moment, you can reduce its strength to your body as well as brain. Name any emotion you feel, be it sadness, fear, anger, disgust, or guilt, and indicate how much you feel it. Say it out loud, use a mood-tracking app like Daylio, Reflectly, or Moodnotes, or write down your feelings in a diary.

Try not to wait until your feelings are at their peak, although. Get in the habit of naming your emotions as they come up. Tracking their intensity gives you a chance to slow down before you hit a boiling point and lose yourself in anxiety or ruminationsnapping at someone or mindlessly reaching for a substance.

If you try to avoid your feelings, they will become more intense, says Melanie Harned, a Virginia Puget Sound health psychologist and author of Treating Trauma with Dialectical Behavior Therapy. When you are emotionally affected by the news, pay attention to what you think, do, and feel in your body. Choose what would be most helpful at the moment – whether it’s creating a window to feel your emotions for a few minutes without trying to change them, or if you’re in the middle of an urgent task, plan to return to painful news at a time when you can mourn.

One way to improve your ability to deal with emotions is to remember that they can change quickly. An exercise that helps my clients stop worrying about being stuck in their feelings is to watch several short, emotional scenes in succession—the deathbed scene from the movie Champion, followed by a clip from the Pharrell Williams music video Happy. If you try this, you may find yourself crying one moment and dancing or smiling in a chair the next. The goal is to understand how the same transience can apply to the variety of emotions you experience when you stay present throughout the day.

Understandably, after a tragedy, it can also be tempting to narrow down the scope of your life in order to avoid painful emotions. For example, after learning about mass violence in a supermarket, as we did during the horrific shootings in Boulder and Buffalo, it is natural to feel uncomfortable before going to the grocery store. Keep in mind that allowing yourself to experience your emotions, including fear, when you return to your routine will ultimately reduce your anxiety. Harned said.

You may feel compelled to make a difference in the world and help without too much identification with the other person’s pain. “We are taught that compassion can help others, but that can be a trap,” said George Everly Jr., a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health who specializes in crisis intervention and resilience.

In his work to reduce burnout among humanitarian workers, Dr. Everly encourages perspectiveor trying to understand the world from the other person’s point of view at the moment, instead of diving into their emotions, blurring the line between what they’re going through and your experience.

“There is a difference between awareness and immersion and envelopment,” said Sharon Salzberg, a leading mindfulness teacher and author of Real Change: Mindfulness to Heal Yourself and the World.

One study of more than 7,500 physicians found that understanding and acknowledging patients’ emotions reduced burnout, while overidentifying with their patients’ experiences predicted burnout among physicians. This takes practice, but if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, try taking a few breaths and then moving on to a more cognitive form of worry rather than full participation in the suffering.

By thinking about how to help others, you will take back control of a world that can feel overwhelming. improving one’s own well-being. Purposeful and repeated performance of work such as donation, volunteering or political participation has been shown to reduce risk of falling into depression as well as increases happiness.

“When we mobilize and rise to positive, tangible action, it’s almost impossible to fall into despair,” said Shelly Tigelsky, activist and author of Sit to Stand Up.

Spend some time thinking about how you want to contribute to a cause that matters to you. As we work to right the injustices in the world, “we need to balance compassion and our efforts with the wisdom that everything can take time. They can take a long time, but sometimes our efforts plant the seeds,” said Ms. Salzberg said.

When something terrible happens in the world, it may seem natural to use dramatic statements like “I’m broke.” This is especially true on social media, where extreme statements can be confirmed by “likes” or comments from other people. But our words and interpretations have a strong influence on how we feel and behave.

While it is helpful to allow ourselves to respect our feelings, our emotions are heightened when we exaggerate circumstances that are already hurting us. Catastrophic thinking can either provoke or exacerbate negative many emotions. So try replacing thoughts or phrases like “The world is falling apart” with “I need to do something to make X better.”

Resilience, the ability to function after a stressful event, often depends on adding positive vibes and actions in your day to improve your ability to cope with problems. Hang out with people who inspire you and plan hobbies that can keep you interested. Protecting your mental health is not selfish; it allows you to be the best version of yourself, not a burnt out version, the doctor said. Everly, who finds time to exercise even when he is on disaster relief missions.

In addition to adding activities that promote happiness, try to pay attention to those moments when positive emotions naturally arise during the day, whether it’s morning coffee or spending time with someone you love.

“When the news is so dominated by terrible things, we can lose sight of the good in the world and in our own lives,” the doctor says. Harned said.

But if you are struggling to find moments of peace and experiencing sadness or anxiety that is affecting your ability to function, see a therapist who can offer you evidence-based tools to improve your well-being.

Think about specific times of the day, say morning and mid-afternoon, when you want to be up to date with the news, rather than endlessly scrolling or keeping it in the background. A break doesn’t mean you don’t care; it’s about taking a break so you can go back to solving problems in the world and try to make a difference.

It’s also important to stay tuned in to the causes that matter to us in times of relative calm. “We feel pain acutely, and then we forget,” Ms. said. Salzberg. She suggests finding ways to do things that matter to us, even if they’re not at the top of our news feed.

Allow yourself to feel pain and joy without getting stuck. Here’s how to allow your emotions to contribute to real healing. Dr. Harned reminded me of the analogy Marsha Linehanpsychologist and pioneer of mindfulness-based behavior therapy teaches you can visit a cemetery without building a house there.


Jenny Taitz is an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at UCLA and the author of several books, including an upcoming book on stress.