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How to Care for Yourself When the World Is Burning

How to Care for Yourself When the World is Burning

As I write this, headlines about the United States’ disastrous pullout from Afghanistan dominate the news. I’m heartbroken as I hear stories about what is happening in Afghanistan. The Taliban is finalizing its control of the country. U.S. troops are evacuating our citizens—and, hopefully, the Afghan people who have aided our nation over the last two decades. I’m gutted as I think about those who won’t get out, who are now targets of the Taliban. I’m horrified as I consider the women and girls whose lives and freedoms will likely be drastically altered now that the Taliban is back in control.

In addition to the headlines from Afghanistan, we’ve got news of an earthquake in Haiti, wildfires in California and, oh yeah, the pandemic we’ve been fighting for the last year and a half is on the rise again in the form of the Delta variant—and right as children are headed back to school. The world is (literally) on fire.

I felt myself beginning to spiral early last week, after following the news out of Afghanistan somewhat obsessively. I felt sad and angry and frustrated and helpless. My motivation was gone. And I knew if I didn’t shift my focus, I would suffer. However, the situations around the world (all out of my control) wouldn’t change because I spent time worrying.

How do you take care of yourself when you feel like you’re spiraling, when the world is burning? Here’s how I took steps out of my news-induced funk.

Sit with Your Feelings

Before you can move on from the emotions that are affecting you, you must feel your feelings. “Sitting” with your feelings means observing and accepting your emotions without judgment or trying to talk yourself out feeling that way. As you notice your emotions, be kind to yourself. We only shame ourselves when we engage in harsh self-talk (“I can’t believe I got so worked up in that meeting at work.”). You can take care of yourself by allowing those feelings and offering yourself grace. If you find your thoughts returning to the situation that upset you, practice mindfulness by bringing your attention back to whatever you are doing in the present moment.

(Stop Sitting and) Do What You Can Do

Taking action might help to alleviate some of your feelings of helplessness. Most of us are not first responders who can lend our skills to serve in times of crisis. (And first responders have an entirely different type of stress to deal with!) However, there are often things we can do to aid those who are suffering.

You can give financially to an organization that is serving during disaster or crisis. You can write your congressional representatives to urge them to act. (Find your senators and representative here.) If you’re a person of faith, you can pray. Reach out to someone you know who is directly affected by the crisis. (Many veterans of the war in Afghanistan are suffering this week.)

When we serve however we are able, we not only care for those on the front lines of a disaster; we also care for ourselves by lifting another’s burden.

Set Boundaries Around Your News Consumption

After spending over three hours consuming news about Afghanistan last week, I realized two things: 1) I felt terrible and 2) there was no new news; I was just listening to the same terrible accounts on repeat.

We must balance the need to be informed citizens with the need to take care of ourselves. One way to take care of yourself is to set boundaries around your news consumption. I began limiting myself to about 30 minutes each morning and evening to catch up on the latest events.

You might need to limit which social media accounts you follow, what platforms you log into, or how much time you spend in front of the television or scrolling on your phone.

Close the Stress Cycle

I plan to write more about stress in a future blog post. (I’ve already said that once!) I’ve been learning a lot from the book Burnout by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski. In short, when we feel stressed, we need to take care of ourselves by closing the stress cycle—something that can be done with as little as 20 minutes of vigorous exercise. Move your body or breathe deeply and intentionally for a couple of minutes. Both practices signal to your body that you are safe.

Nurture Yourself

There’s one more thing you can do to take care of yourself. Nurture yourself. What feels nurturing might vary from one day to the next; I find it helpful to keep a list of nurturing activities so that I have some go-to ideas when I need them. Nurturing activities might include a walk, snuggling your pet, a hug from someone you love, or a warm bath. The important thing is that you care for yourself in a way that replenishes your energy, rather than stealing it away. (I’m looking at you, screen time.)

When the world is on fire, it’s easy to let the 24-hour news cycle steal our peace and joy. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can choose to sit with our feelings, then do something to help, set boundaries around our news consumption, close the stress cycle, and finally, nurture ourselves. Neglecting to care for ourselves won’t change the terrible things happening across the globe. By choosing to take care of ourselves, we show up healthy in our lives and have the ability to help heal the hurt in the world as we are able.

It’s been a tough week in the news—but when is it not? If you found this post helpful, would you please share the link on social media so that my words might serve others?

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