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How to cope when the nation is in crisis


The United States is going through intense and emotional turbulence right now as we struggle to continue defining who we are and what we value. Just as with the pandemic, it makes sense for you to be feeling a whole range of emotions, or maybe you are simply feeling numb. There is no roadmap and this is new for all of us. But here are some tools and options that can help you through.


Take notice of your emotions. There is no right way to feel and it is helpful to acknowledge all of what you feel. Your emotions are messengers about what you need and how to best meet those needs. The feelings themselves are there to prompt you into action to take care of getting those needs met. We may be tempted to avoid or push emotions away, but they tend to just pop out later like a Whack a Mole. It’s best to take time to notice them and attend to them.


Take notice of your thoughts. It’s easy when emotions are strong to engage in “all or nothing thinking.” All people protesting are _____. All police officers are _____. No media people are _____. No politicians are _____. We engage in these thought patterns often as humans anyway (it’s a helpful shorthand way of categorizing) but it can get extreme in times of high emotion. We easily slip into assumptions and absolutes which makes it simpler to see people as “others” rather than as individual human beings who have a unique story and circumstance. Observe if you are doing “all or nothing thinking” because it will increase your emotions, which makes effective coping even more challenging.


Take notice if what you are doing is helping you. Watching the news nonstop? How’s that impacting you? Avoiding people? How’s that impacting you? Reading political posts online? How’s that impacting you? Eating to soothe your emotions? How’s that impacting you? Just take notice of what you’ve been doing with your time and mental space and reflect on the impact.


Take stock of past times when you were able to cope with similar emotions. If you are feeling overwhelmed, think about times you managed through overwhelm. If you are feeling angry, think about previous situations where you coped with that anger well. When we can reflect on past times of success or effective coping, it increases our sense of competence and resilience to get through the current moment too.


Take action in ways that align with your values. One effective way to cope with strong thoughts and feelings is to take action on them. That could mean getting involved or financially supporting causes. It could mean starting conversations. It could mean researching to learn more about what is happening and how we got here. It could mean praying more. It could mean reaching out to loved ones more. Action helps increase our sense of agency, a soothing elixir when we're feeling strong emotions or a lack of control.


Take control of what you can. We have already been in a period where a lot of our control has been limited due to the pandemic. It’s easy to feel that our locus of control is very small. Taking control increases our sense of competence and autonomy...crucial in times of crisis. So even if you don’t feel that you have a lot of control right now, it helps to just be more observant of what you *do* control. You can say to yourself “I’m choosing to have pizza for dinner.” Rather than the typical “Hmmm, what do I want? Pizza sounds pretty good, I guess we can do that. Okay, let’s order.” We can increase our sense of empowerment in simple ways by choosing assertive language and being more intentional to notice our decision-making power.


Take solace in your community. For you, this might be your family or friends or spiritual community or online community, etc. Get connected with whoever your “tribe” is so that you can comfort the aloneness that often accompanies feeling overwhelmed. Ask for support and let people who care about you know what you need. Likewise, if people are wanting time and energy from you but you just don’t have it to give, be clear about that. Trust that your community will understand this.


Take breaks. This will look different for everyone. Maybe your break is taking a long walk or maybe it’s turning off the news. Maybe it’s unplugging from people or maybe it’s sleeping a little more. The idea of taking breaks coincides with the idea of assessing your emotions and what they're telling you that you need. Our bodies and psyches use a lot of extra energy when we feel on edge about what’s going on around us and how it may change our lives. Uncertainty is very draining. Recognize that you will likely feel a loss of energy right now and may need more breaks.


Take notice of positive things that are still true. Stay with me here. There is a whole lot that is messed up right now. And also, you probably still have access to running water. You probably still have the ability to use a phone to reach out to someone. You probably still have a place to lay your head at night without fear of a bomb going off. You can probably find stories of people being kind and compassionate to strangers. There are positive things still true right now. Sometimes we have to force ourselves to zoom out and see the larger picture when we are overwhelmed with strong emotion.


Take time to reflect on everything you are hearing. It’s very easy to stay in our silos of comfort when we feel threatened. We relish hearing ideas that match ours because it feels soothing. And also, as a human, you are a critical and independent thinker. Your psyche needs time to pause and reflect on the stories and information you are hearing. Our thoughts impact our emotions and vice versa. Taking time for reflection and processing helps the snow globe inside each of us to settle down so we can make sense of it all and determine our next steps.


And finally...


Take care of yourself. No really. Attend to your basic needs: sleep, nutrition, movement, hydration. All of these easily get off track when we feel in crisis mode or when thoughts and emotions feel out of control. Without meeting these basic needs properly, we become more vulnerable to the intense emotions and thoughts that make getting through our days even more challenging.


You are loved and lovable. You are part of what makes our country and world important. Please take care of you.

© 2017 Heather M. McKenzie, Therapist LCMHC PLLC

(919) 744-8335

heather@mckenziecounseling.org

all areas of North Carolina, United States​