How to Manage Emotions from Difficult World Events
Coping With Anxiety When The World Gets Scary
Posted Mar 12, 2020
With all the issues facing our world today, I’ve had more clients than ever before seeking help to manage stress from things like terrorism, COVID-19, or other frightening events. I applaud people who are able to recognize this stress and want to face it in a constructive and healthy way.
It takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable and share that current events are making you feel anxious, angry, or confused. Recognizing this also empowers you to take healthy, appropriate action. Taking healthy, appropriate action not only makes the world a better place, but it’s also good for your mental health and well-being.
When we feel overwhelmed by events, it can be tempting to “check out” or numb ourselves to how much we care. By having a plan of how to express our cares, we simultaneously become better equipped to care for ourselves as well as the world around us.
The "C.A.R.E. System" below is something I created to guide you through four important steps during difficult world events:
1. Consider: The first step is to allow yourself to really consider the situation that you’re facing, and how it makes you feel. This is an important step because many of us get stuck in denial, or we try to avoid our feelings. Feelings are actually important information, and we don’t want to miss them. Below are some examples around considering feelings related to the coronavirus or terrorism; which are two major world events that tend to provoke strong feelings worthy of careful consideration. The two examples below are discussed separately, but of course there can be overlap in feelings over these events because both events can provoke fears related to survival, social connection, and well being.
If you're feeling anxious about the coronavirus, you might be feeling fear around a sense of uncertainty or health concerns. You may also want to ask yourself if these fears might be touching on larger underlying issues about vulnerability or loss of control, or perhaps unprocessed grief over loss of loved ones from the past.
As another example, if you’re considering your feelings over an act of terrorism, you might notice that it makes you feel anxious—or you might notice it makes you feel angry—or you might even notice you feel both anger and anxiety. Anger is an important emotion because it cues us that we’re experiencing injustice. Anxiety, on the other hand, is an important emotion because it cues us that we may need to take steps to help keep ourselves safe.
No matter what you’re feeling, an essential first step is to consider the situation that you’re facing and be honest with yourself about how it’s making you feel.
2. Act: Once you have an idea of how a situation is making you feel, you will be better prepared to choose what type of action is healthy and appropriate. Taking action is often helpful because it reduces feelings of helplessness, increases feelings of self-efficacy, and helps convert anxiety or other emotions into healthy behaviors. Listening to emotions for the healthy behaviors they can stimulate is often the best things we can do for ourselves.
For example, if you're feeling anxious about the coronavirus, you might take a moment to ensure that rather than just getting "stuck in your head" with the anxiety, you're taking steps such as thorough hand washing, social distancing, and avoiding large gatherings when possible. To mitigate the stress of this, you may also want to plan some video hangouts or get-togethers with small groups to reduce feelings of isolation. Arming yourself with information is a healthy action, too-- The National Institute of Mental Health has a wonderful guide online as well.
if you were feeling anxiety over fears of a local terror attack, you might consider healthy and appropriate actions, like creating a safety plan to connect with family and loved ones in the event of an emergency, or following the practical cautionary steps advised on the ads many New Yorkers have seen for a “go bag,” or whatever other types of steps you can take to demonstrate to yourself that you’re responding appropriately to anxiety.
If you’re feeling anger, you might consider what healthy and appropriate action you can take to act on this important awareness of your feelings about injustice. This can be anything from attending a rally to volunteering for a politician who represents your views, writing letters of support to our first responders, troops or police, or even just joining a discussion group or book club through a place like Meetup.org that focuses on the issue at hand (possibly an online meetup if more practical). Healthy and appropriate action will help you address your feelings in a proactive manner with a level of intensity that feels right for your situation and level of emotion.
If you’ve actually already done all the practical steps, but you’re still just feeling jittery, a healthy and appropriate action might be to book yourself a soothing massage, practice yoga or deep breathing, or schedule a talk with a friend or therapist, or some other healthy and appropriate action that will help or manage feelings of anxiety. One small "silver lining" of scary world events is that they create a strong motivation for us to learn meditation or relaxation skills that may otherwise not feel as immediately relevant. When we feel a strong motivation to learn, sometimes we are more focused and ready to build new skills.
3. Reflect: Once you have taken action, pause to notice how it has made you feel, and possibly how it has made others feel. If you donated your time or money to help people who were most directly affected by the issue at hand, how does it feel to think about the aid you gave? If you took the time to sign up for a discussion group or read a book about the issue, how do you feel about informing yourself? If you attended a rally or shared your views online, did it feel good to connect with others who share your view and make your feelings known publicly? If you created an emergency plan or preparations for yourself or loved ones, did it instill feelings of pride or self-efficacy, at least at some level? If you learned some new meditation or relaxation skills, did it create a sense of empowerment through building your self care skills? Please make sure you give yourself credit for the work you've done-- don't feel as if you've failed just because you may still have lingering feelings of anxiety-- the goal here is not to completely resolve all of the pain, but instead to help you feel proactive as you confront difficult feelings.
Upon reflection, you may determine the action you took was positive—or reflection may guide you to realize that a different action is needed. Either way, congratulate yourself for taking the time to consider the situation and attempt to take appropriate action.
4. Ease: Now that you have considered, acted, and reflected, it may be time for you to ease into something else. After all, we do have other obligations and concerns in our lives, and we need to “give ourselves permission” to move forward with our day at some point. But only go to this when it feels right for you. If you want to take a break but you keep getting pinged by social media or updates on your phone, consider taking a social media fast for even 3-4 hours to make giving yourself a breather as simple as possible.
If you decide during the Reflection phase that you really want to re-engage and take more action or try a different course of action, then that may be the healthiest thing for you to do. The idea is to make sure you at least open to the idea that after consideration, action, and reflection, it may be the right time for you to ease forward with the rest of your day. Sometimes a healthy break actually gives us the perspective we need to think of more creative or effective actions to take in the future. You can always return to the beginning and "Consider" again anytime you feel the need.
I welcome questions, comments, and input from anyone who wants to join me. Thank you, and I hope to hear from others who are wrestling with these events on an emotional level!
If you'd like to watch a video of me talking through this blog and some additional ideas, please watch my V-LOG by clicking here.