There is a lot going on in the world at the moment, from Wars and devastation to natural disasters and the fall-out of a deadly pandemic. Israel has blockaded Gaza and killed more than 8,000 Palestinians. Simultaneously, a war rages on in Ukraine, the citizens of Maui attempt to rebuild after deadly wildfires in August, and Turkey repairs from earthquakes in February that killed over 60,000. (source: The Guardian) Whether we are affected directly or not by these tragedies, there is no doubt a common feeling of grief, loss and trauma at the distressing events we are witnessing daily. Whilst it is so important to remain aware and active, it is also vital that we take care of ourselves and our mental wellbeing. Complete withdrawal from the facts of the world is not a morally sound choice, but there are things we can do to make the day-to-day easier to cope with. Here is our advice for remaining socially conscious whilst also maintaining your personal mental wellbeing.
Talk to Those Around You
There is power to be found in community, and having a conversation with the people around you can be a great support. Whether it is friends, family or strangers, be sure to approach the conversation with compassion and understanding. These are often highly emotionally charged topics, so be sure to check in with yourself first to see if you have the emotional capacity to deal with the results right now. There is no harm in coming back to a difficult conversation at a later date.
It is vital to know why you are engaging in this conversation. Are you looking for support and connection, or to have a dialogue about opposing views? Ask yourself these questions and make it clear to the person you are speaking to. Others may not feel able to have these discussions, especially those from marginalised communities, who may be more directly affected by current events than you are. Never force someone to speak who isn't comfortable.
Remember, having personal conversations is far more effective than sharing social media posts. Don't be afraid to educate those who may not be as aware of current events, you never know what impact you may have. It is also important to be a shoulder to lean on, and to remember that you can lean on others when things feel too overwhelming.
Bear Witness With Self Compassion
It is so important to bear witness to current events and be educated on the atrocities being committed. When you feel that you have the emotional strength, be sure to find information only from trusted resources. Do your research and don't believe everything you read online. Verified information can be hard to comeby, so avoid taking all your facts from trending social media posts. Check for sources and ideally find information that is firsthand.
However, it is important to recognise when we need a short break. The more overwhelmed we are, the less we are able to take in information and the less helpful we become. It is hard to pause as it can seem selfish against a background of so much suffering, but it is vital for your own well-being. Trauma has a very real effective on our minds as well as our physical body. The best way you can help to end these atrocities is if you are mentally and physically well.
Donate Money and Volunteer Responsibly
A common response to shared tragedy is the desire to give back in some way. Whether you choose to make a charitable donation or volunteer your time, it is important to do so effectively.
When looking for an organisation to donate to, make sure they are a registered charity / not for profit organisation. Research the charity and their goals to ensure they align with what you think they do. How successful is the charity at achieving their goals? Look into their annual reports and see if they will be able to use your donation effectively. Charities that have a history of success are going to be able to put your money to the best use.
When you find a charity that you wish to support you could also consider volunteering some of your time too. Many charities need people to do simple tasks such as handing out leaflets or helping with admin. You could also have specific skills to offer such as graphic design or creative writing. It is always worth reaching out to find ways you can engage and be proactive.
Recognise The Signs of Emotional Stress
It is perfectly normal to have a big emotional reaction to human suffering and tragedy. We are biologically ingrained to care about one another, though this can sometimes feel strange in our individualistic society. If you are feeling difficult emotions, it is important to let yourself experience them. Feeling empathy is integral to the human experience and should not be shut out in times of crisis. It may feel selfish to experience these strong emotions when you are not directly involved in the events going on, but we are biologically programmed to care about other human beings. See your empathy as a strength, not a weakness. By treating yourself kindly you are more able to treat others with kindness, and the world could definitely use more kindness now.
"Continuous exposure to disturbing material causes stress, which wreaks havoc on a person’s physical and mental health. A barrage of such information can lead to a state of overwhelm, which in turn can trigger anxiety disorders, mood disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse as well as other self-harm or relief-seeking behaviors", according to trauma therapist Monica Amorosi (source: The Guardian)
If you find yourself fixated on current events, unable to turn off disturbing thoughts or continuously feeling deeply worried, these are signs that you may be becoming emotionally overwhelmed. If you notice yourself feeling this way, it is important to take some time to calm your mind and your nervous system, which has entered fight or flight. Calming your nervous system may look different for everyone, some people may want to take a walk with a friend, take a nap, go to a yoga class, connect with nature or go to a therapy session. Whatever you do, it is important to be actively engaged and not just trying to distract yourself, as your physical body will still be experiencing fight or flight.
It is important to recognise that there is no 'correct' way to deal with the traumatic events that continue to unfold around us every day. We all want to play our part to help end these atrocities, and we can do this best when we are also taking care of our own needs. Be present, be active but also remember to look after yourself.