Staying optimistic in a turbulent time
There is good news in the world today, though it may not seem like it. Public violence and tumultuous world politics, amid a divisive national election and bleak environmental news – all splashed through ever-present media – have many people so rattled that they miss out on the good things happening around them.
At times like these, it is especially important to keep perspective, said Dayle Lawrence, MSW, LICSW, who just marked 10 years as director of clinical services, overseeing the two Cape Cod Healthcare outpatient behavioral health clinics.
Lawrence, who has lived on the Cape since she was 10, turns to nature as a nurturing wellspring when the world feels burdensome.
“When I go outside to unwind, I try to still my mind and really just see what is in front of me,” she said.
Megan Amsler of Falmouth is in a unique position to witness the emotional effects of issues such as climate change. Amsler is executive director of Cape & Islands Self-Reliance Corporation in Cataumet, a nonprofit organization that educates and empowers residents to make wise choices about energy use. The agency offers a heat and power co-op and energy-related training, consulting, and education.
“People are feeling increasingly stressed and anxious about a whole host of issues, from climate change to political change,” she said.
Lawrence offered five tips for keeping bad news in perspective, while Amsler described how she applies some of the wisdom in her life:
Connect with Nature: “Connecting with nature is great for de-stressing and taking care of yourself,” Lawrence said. Our region’s natural beauty – a patchwork of beaches, woods, fields, and open sky – can be very nurturing, she said.
Amsler agreed that it’s essential to appreciate the beauty of the simple things.
“We live in a magical place surrounded by water, trees, meadows of wildflowers, sunsets, moonrises, and beautiful night skies filled with fireflies and stars,” she said. “I find that it is very beneficial to be outside to unwind. I tell the buzzing thoughts in my head to ‘be quiet and leave me alone for now.’ There are so many things that can inspire and feed our soul right in front of us.”
Limit Exposure to News: While staying informed is important, Lawrence said exposure to news cycles should be limited.
“Watching news events over and over can be very traumatizing, especially for people who have trauma in their histories,” she said. It can be especially negative for children, “who may develop questions about their own safety in the world.”
At bedtime, take a break from disturbing news. “Before bed, you should be settling down and calming yourself,” Lawrence said.
Find Your Own Toolkit to Unplug: Identify tools that help you relax. Lawrence relaxes with a good novel or spends time with her three grandchildren. For others, the answer may be meditation or music, reading, or a walk on the beach. It’s important to know what helps you calm your thoughts, she said. Almost 50 percent of Americans turn to music to help them feel better, she adds.
“Be thoughtful about it,” she said. “Disconnect from electronics and just be with yourself.” And be thoughtful about what you commit to, she added.
Be Grateful: Being in the present moment and recognizing the people and things that enrich your life can change the way you look at things – and even change brain chemistry – Lawrence said.
“It’s a way of turning off what you’re thinking about,” she said. “Negative attitudes are self-propelling.”
If you find yourself obsessing about events, clearly picture a mental stop sign. Then think of something you’re grateful for and name it, Lawrence said. “Say it out loud.”
Amsler reviews her gratitude list before bed.
“I make a list of 10 things – or perhaps only five, if I am struggling and in a dark space in my head – I am grateful for. With every breath, I tell myself, ‘out with the bad and in with the good.’ I feel gratitude and peacefulness wash over me.” She says this technique – conscious gratitude plus breath work – also helps with physical pain.
Don’t Isolate: Recognize the importance of staying connected with positive people and not isolating, Lawrence said. “Spend time with people whose company you enjoy, and laugh. Call a friend, or meet a friend for coffee.”
If you find you’re unable to stop obsessing or that negative thoughts are limiting your daily function, make an appointment with your doctor, Lawrence said.
“Prolonged anxiety or consistent worry — especially when it prevents you from participating in things you previously found enjoyable and nurturing — can be a sign of a deeper problem,” she said. “When this happens, it’s important to seek professional help.”