Coping with Global Overwhelm: Focusing on What You Can Control

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Everywhere we look at present, there is something going on. Conflict in the Middle East, terrorist atrocities, war, climate change and after effects of the pandemic. When we search, we can find and it can take up a lot of our mental energy. At the moment, conflict between Israel and Hamas is dominating the news, replacing the war in Ukraine and it is everywhere. Whatever your opinion on the rights and wrongs of it all, there is plenty of content to form a strong opinion. While it is often interesting to keep up with current events, can concentrating on them have an adverse effect on our mental health and distract us from issues we can influence?

In today’s hyper-connected era, the vast expanse of global events is at our fingertips, offering us a window into every corner of the world. With just a click, we can delve into stories of natural disasters, political upheavals, groundbreaking discoveries, and human triumphs. Such accessibility to information, while empowering, can also be a double-edged sword. The relentless wave of news, especially those that portray distressing events, can overwhelm our minds and emotions. While being informed is a virtue in our democratic societies, there’s a delicate balance to strike. Overconsumption of such information can distract us from personal goals and objectives, pulling our attention towards events that are often beyond our control.

For many, the constant influx of negative news can lead to feelings of sadness, anxiety, and hopelessness. Known as “headline stress” or “news fatigue,” this phenomenon is not just a fleeting feeling but can evolve into chronic stress if not addressed. Chronic stress, in turn, can lead to more severe mental health issues like depression, anxiety disorders, and insomnia.

Empathy plays a significant role in this. As human beings, we are naturally empathetic creatures, which means we often internalize the pain and suffering of others. When we see images of people affected by tragedies or read about their stories, it’s common to feel their pain deeply. Over time, this continuous empathetic response can lead to emotional exhaustion or burnout.

The impact of incessant exposure to global news cannot be understated. For many, the barrage of negative information translates into feelings of helplessness, anxiety, and sometimes even depression. Imagine a scenario where every morning, you wake up to news of a different catastrophe — it’s no surprise that this can take a toll on one’s mental and emotional well-being. Therefore, it becomes imperative to recognize when we’re over-consuming and to establish boundaries. These boundaries act as a protective shield, ensuring that we’re informed without being inundated.

Mindfulness and grounding are powerful tools in this endeavor. The world around us is in constant flux, with myriad events unfolding every second. Yet, at any given moment, the only reality we truly experience is the present. Mindfulness teaches us to anchor ourselves in the ‘now’. When we feel anxiety creeping in, overwhelmed by the scale of global events, we can employ grounding techniques. A simple act like focusing on one’s breath, feeling the texture of an object, or tuning into ambient sounds can break the spiral of overwhelming thoughts. This conscious return to the present moment serves as a reset button, offering a much-needed respite from the cacophony of the world.

One of the foundational concepts that can guide us in these turbulent times is the distinction between the Circle of Concern and the Circle of Influence, introduced by Stephen R. Covey. Imagine two concentric circles. The outer circle, the Circle of Concern, represents all the issues that concern us, ranging from global warming to political instability. Inside this is the Circle of Influence, which encompasses areas where our actions can effect change. While it’s natural for our concerns to be vast, our energies are best spent on areas we can influence. This shift in focus is empowering; it transforms feelings of helplessness into proactive action.

Speaking of action, even in the vastness of global events, there’s always a niche where individual contributions can make a significant impact. It’s a comforting thought that in the face of monumental challenges, individual actions can still shine through. For instance, while one might feel helpless about climate change, planting trees in the local community, conserving water, or advocating for sustainable practices in one’s workplace are actionable steps. Similarly, donating to humanitarian causes, volunteering, or even engaging in meaningful dialogues can create ripples of positive change.

Another critical aspect of coping is the support system we surround ourselves with. In moments of doubt and anxiety, talking to someone we trust can be a source of immense relief. This act of sharing not only helps in processing complex emotions but also provides a fresh perspective. Sometimes, merely voicing our concerns can lessen their weight. And for those who find it challenging to navigate these emotions, professional help is always available. Therapists and counselors are trained to offer guidance, ensuring that we’re not alone in our journey.

In this age of digital consumption, we have unprecedented control over the kind of content we consume. It’s essential to exercise this control judiciously. One practical approach is to allocate specific times for news consumption, thus preventing it from spilling over into every moment of our day. Furthermore, the quality of information is as crucial as quantity. Prioritizing well-researched, balanced news sources can make a significant difference in our overall outlook.

Self-care, often touted in popular culture, genuinely has merit in this context. Activities that rejuvenate us, whether it’s a hobby, exercise, or even meditation, can counterbalance the stressors of daily life. Personal growth, too, can be an anchor. By continually learning, evolving, and setting personal milestones, we can derive a sense of purpose that acts as a bulwark against external overwhelm.

In the grand tapestry of time, our world has witnessed countless challenges. Civilizations have risen and fallen, natural calamities have reshaped geographies, and societal structures have evolved. Through all this, the indomitable human spirit has persevered. By focusing on this broader perspective, we realize that while the nature of challenges might change, our inherent resilience remains a constant. This perspective infuses hope and optimism, reminding us that every epoch has its trials, but it also has stories of triumph, often orchestrated by ordinary individuals with extraordinary resolve.

Our relationship with global events is complex. While they shape our worldview and inform us, they also have the potential to overwhelm. The key lies in striking a balance, ensuring that we’re informed citizens without being emotionally drained. By focusing on actionable steps, seeking support, practicing mindfulness, and grounding ourselves in the present, we can navigate this intricate landscape. After all, every individual action, no matter how small, contributes to the collective narrative of humanity.

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Dr. Nicholas Jenner, a therapist, coach, and speaker, has over 20 years of experience in the field of therapy and coaching. His specialty lies in treating codependency, a condition that is often characterized by a compulsive dependence on a partner, friend, or family member for emotional or psychological sustenance. Dr. Jenner's approach to treating codependency involves using Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, a treatment method that has gained widespread popularity in recent years. He identifies the underlying causes of codependent behavior by exploring his patients' internal "parts," or their different emotional states, to develop strategies to break free from it. Dr. Jenner has authored numerous works on the topic and offers online therapy services to assist individuals in developing healthy relationships and achieving emotional independence.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. VJ

    Thanks for this. Taking a moment to ground oneself in the here and now is helpful.