The last two years have called for new ways of coping that many of us did not think we had in us.
As the pandemic raged, people were encouraged to focus on taking care of themselves and to pivot in their conceptualizations of work and social interactions. Doing these things was supposed to help people adjust to the “new normal.”
In the beginning of 2022, we were all looking to the start of the new year with optimism since the pandemic was better understood and better controlled. It seemed like we were going to be able to resume a more predictable life, in which we are not looking daily at numbers representing disease and death. We were finally going to be able to focus on life again.
Then, the war in Ukraine broke out. It was hard to imagine that the world was once again requiring us to cope with unimaginable events. When a person is faced with a crisis, their body responds by setting off the fight or flight response.
This means that their heart races, breathing gets shallow, muscles tighten, and sweat glands are activated, among other responses. This reaction is meant to help a person escape from danger.
Once the person is out of danger, the system is designed to shut off just as quickly as it turned on.
But what happens when the crisis just won’t pass? The system is not designed to remain “on” for an extended period. Continuing to be in a state of intense stress can begin to wear on the body. Although it may seem that we have no control over how our body responds, we in fact can have some degree of impact.
It is important to recognize that in the same way that the system turns on all the reactions at the same time, it likewise turns all the reactions off at the same time. Therefore, if you can get yourself to take deep breaths or to relax your muscles by forcibly tensing them and then releasing them, you cantrigger the turning off of the panic system. Try to imagine panicking and breathing deeply at the same time—you can’t, because it is actually physiologically impossible.
Another feeling that is triggered when dealing with large, frightening world events is a sense of helplessness. When disaster hits, people cope by doing. However, in situations where it is unclear how to help, coping becomes harder.
But there often are things that can be done to help. These may not be as grand as people would want, since people want to make a lot of impact, but they are no less important.
Consistency is important. Doing many little things to help frequently is how people can maximize the impact they have. Moreover, offering support to others who may be dealing with the same thing and struggling is also “doing something.”
Check in with people you know and see if you can help them weather the storm. This especially applies to those who may be impacted more directly. With that being said, if you are going to offer someone support or an ear to listen, make sure that you are ready to hear what they have to say.
If you become uncomfortable with what they are telling you, it may feel to them like they have burdened you, and that is unfair to them. Know yourself and your boundaries before you put yourself in a situation that will harm both you and others.
It is also important to remember that you will not be able to offer anyone any kind of support if you do not take care of yourself.
When the world seems like it is falling apart, it is important to focus on those things that you can control. For example, you can still perform the tasks of your daily life.
Although unloading the dishwasher may seem trivial
“at a time like this,” it is exactly these kinds of tasks that help you move through the day by providing structure.
It is also very important that you stick with all your self-care routines, especially those around eating and sleeping. If your body is not nourished, your ability to deal with stress will be further diminished. Although you might feel guilty that here you are putting a moisturizer on your face or getting a massage while people in other parts of the world are suffering, try to keep in mind that your smooth skin and relaxed muscles do not make their lives better or worse, but do improve your coping.
That has value too. There is a time to offer help, and there is a time to care for yourself.
In our unpredictable world, it is hard to keep going when every turn seems to bring on another disaster that we then must deal with. However, it is important to keep in mind that hardship breeds resilience, and resilience is what will allow you to do good for yourself and the world.
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