Sunday night, October 1st 2017, 58 people were killed and almost 500 injured in a devastating tragedy in Las Vegas. This event is only the most recent in what seems to be a non-stop slew of mass violence in our country. Massacre and tragedy seems to be a new norm. At the same time, many folks are struggling with the rhetoric that surrounded the presidential election, the visibility of police violence, blatant and violent white supremacist movements, lack of safety for undocumented immigrant communities, and the insidiousness of our currently divisive sociopolitical climate.
One might ask oneself, is the world a garbage fire? I cannot say, but it’s safe to say that morale is low. When I talk to students and colleagues, I find a common experience of what we call in our field “burn out.” However, the treatment for burn out is radical self-care. In the wake of such hate and violence, we have an obligation to ourselves and our loved ones to take care of our mental health.
Here are some steps that you can take to enhance your well-being in our current climate:
Consider a Media Diet or Fast: Not long ago we would get our news once, at most twice a day. Not that many generations ago news from another part of the world might take weeks to arrive. In 2017, we are inundated with news 24 hours a day. Turn on your phone and your news feed updates. Moreover, the news business tends to focus on what is violent and upsetting, not on what is nourishing and inspirational. One effect of constant exposure to disturbing information is to keep us in a constant state of stress. If the apparent state of the world becomes too much, I encourage you to make conscious choices about your exposure to media. You don’t need to completely disengage from the world – although there may be times when that is helpful too.
Prioritize Resting: Rest is a fundamental part of self-care and is necessary if we want to give to others, be productive, or create change. We cannot pour from an empty cup, and it is important to acknowledge the things that fill us back up. Rest may look different for all of us; we may need to be with loved ones, be alone, create art, be outside, or binge-watch This Is Us. Whatever it looks like, be intentional in creating space for rest as an integral part of your day.
Set Realistic Goals: When we are focused on lofty expectations, we can set ourselves up for disappointment, hopelessness, and ultimately, burn-out. One way to minimize this is to set time-bound, specific, measurable, and attainable goals that you can realistically achieve, such as reaching out to loved ones once more per week, writing to your senator, or starting a lunch group to connect and debrief with peers. It is also important to acknowledge the change that happens in these seemingly small gestures.
Practice Gratitude: Having a critical perspective and challenging the status quo is not just helpful, it is imperative to move society forward. However, we are human beings, and we need balance too. Practicing gratitude has been shown to have a powerful impact on mood and morale. Taking time each day to journal, verbalize to friends, or simply meditate on what you are grateful for is a powerful way to find the balance that can revive us when we feel depleted.
Model Community: Be with your people. Find others that energize you, make you feel loved, supported, and challenged, and spend time connecting with those people. At the same time, when you have the energy, it can also be a powerful intervention to reach out to individuals or communities with whom you may not typically spend time. We rest in our comfort zones, and we grow and learn outside of them, both of which are essential.
Reach Out: Finally, do not hesitant to seek support during a challenging time. This may take the form of reaching out to a friend or family member and telling them you need to debrief. It may also take the form of seeking campus resources or professional counseling. If you need to talk to a counselor, we are always here for you. Please visit our website or call us at (541) 346-3227 to initiate services.
Kendall Thornton, PsyD