Maintaining Hope in Turbulent Times

Maintaining Hope in Turbulent Times

Hope is one of those things that tends to elude us during turbulent times.  For some, today’s Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade felt like a monkey wrench on the road to salvation from a tsunami of terrible things.  There’s an ongoing war with global implications causing worldwide disruptions to business interactions and supplies, as well as individuals facing food shortages and fuel hikes.  There have been 27 school shootings in 2022 from the beginning of the year to June.  The House Select Committee’s hearings on the January 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol are a constant reminder of threats to democracy and the many injustices that preceded that event.  And Covid is still ever present.   How do we keep hope alive?

The power of hope in turbulent times

Many of you reached out to me today to express deep despair about current events and the Roe. vs. Wade decision in particular.  Clients have asked for advice about how to process today’s decision that leaves them stunned and full of fear and anger.  Here are some thoughts to help you maintain perspective, ease your distress and remind you that hope is a choice that is still yours. 

“It’s ok to feel good in a world that has horror. The world always had horror.  If it was good for you to experience joy in 1973, 2018, or last Tuesday, it’s ok to feel so today.  Feeling joy does not mean that you don’t care.  Shutting down in horror, doesn’t mean that you care more.”

  • Maintain Empathy
    • Empathy is a higher order capacity that is part of what makes us unique as humans. Though you might want to “take out” the enemy, just who is our enemy and how many do you think you might need to immobilize to set things straight? 

      There will always be people who disagree with our point of view. That is part of living with diversity.  As the saying goes, “before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”  Don’t give into rage or despair at your expense.  Interestingly, research suggests that the tendency to forgive “might be a mechanism via which basic hope reduces odds of depression.”
    • Those who do not squarely agree with you on topics such as reproductive rights are not necessarily against you to the extreme you envision. While there are extremes, many people don’t present in the monolith fashion in which they are often portrayed in polarized political discussion.  [If you are actually living among these extremes, you may need to change your environment].  As an example, the issue of reproductive rights, has been greatly politicized.  With respect to these specific rights, the discussion is often centered on abortion access.  Reproductive health is much broader than abortion access.  Certain points of view are dismissed outright when people are batched into “for and against” from a skewered point of view.  Reproductive health relates to bodily autonomy, access to health insurance and affordable health care as well as continued exclusion of BIPOC communities, among other things.  Even if someone is considered “pro-life” in the popularized sense, they might also have strong disagreement regarding today’s decision because of their views regarding aspects of reproductive rights beyond abortion.  In short, not everyone is “against” you.
    • Polarized and extreme narratives often reflect and exacerbate the distorted thinking embodied in many mental health conditions. Black/white or “all or nothing” thinking is a common cognitive distortion.  Polarization pits people into feeling they have to choose between their identity, religion, spiritual practice, friends, family and sense of belonging.  Cut out of the conversation is any concept of nuance or “middle ground” that might reflect reasoned and appropriate decision making and personal preference. In other words, many people don’t feel like they fit squarely into prescribed labels in a discussion that is about reproductive freedoms, choice, religious preference and social/personal responsibility.

  • Keep Perspective
    • The constant loop of images, soundbites, videos, tweets relating to angry and armed rioters who invaded the U.S. Capitol on Jan 6, 2021 combined with Covid-19 numbers, reports of waning effectiveness of vaccines, not to mention Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II expose us to vicarious trauma. Vicarious trauma is when our nervous system is affected by repeated exposure to traumatic events.  Our nervous system responds (in words or action) as if the events are happening to us directly.  It can certainly increase one’s risk of PTSD.  Indeed, other disorders and ailments are at a much higher risk of exacerbation by repeated viewing or listening to such events.  
    • In short, you are susceptible to multiple triggers if you have pre-existing trauma, depression or anxiety which will intensify your symptoms. We are prone to sensory overload. Our organic reaction to such a media diet can be fight or flight or even freeze when we don’t perceive that there’s any escape or possible solution.  We might shut down as a defense to protect ourselves from perceived personal harm. 
    • Distorted thinking and lack of perspective go hand in hand with common disorders such as anxiety and depression. Indeed, even if you don’t have a disorder, we lack perspective which can distort our thinking considerably even if we don’t have a disorder and we perceive a lack of safety and consume a relentless media diet of frenzy, chaos and turbulence.  It’s nature’s way to give us tunnel vision where we select out experience not directly related to survival and safety.  So, part of what you omit might be:  
      • what is going on well in your life,
      • the fact that you are living in relative safety,
      • your loved ones,
      • future plans that include interest, hobbies, etc.
    • It’s ok to feel good in a world that has horror. The world always had horror.  If it was good for you to experience joy in 1973, 2018, or last Tuesday, it’s ok to feel so today.  Feeling joy does not mean that you don’t care.  Shutting down in horror, doesn’t mean that you care more.

  • Stay Grounded
    • Common to all triggering situations is that losing our sense of Self. That is often what we experience when we are not grounded.   Transitioning to a present moment focus can help us regain perspective and that sense of Self.  Here are a few ways to stay grounded:
      • Use your senses to stay present.
        • Use the 5-4-3-2-1 approach that incorporates all your senses.
          • 5:Count FIVE things you see in your immediate environment.
          • 4:Touch FOUR things e.g. a pen, your clothing, a desk. Feel the texture.  Sit with it a bit.
          • 3:Hear THREE things e.g the air conditioning, a dog barking, a car backfiring.
          • 2:Smell TWO things e.g the aroma from a plant, the scent of fresh laundry.
          • 1:Taste ONE thing from inside your mouth.  Did you have a nice breakfast? What lingers?
Reconnection self care and wellness recovery

  • Try guided meditation which doesn’t leave you alone with your thoughts if your thoughts are distressing.  We provide an introduction to autogenic training right here in this journal.
  • Splash cool water on your face or hands. Even better, try swimming or floating in a pool.
  • Visualize turning down a huge dial that registers your emotions.
  • Go outside and get in touch with nature, young children or animals. Rustling leaves, the wind, children laughing and dogs chewing on bones can help us stay in the present and create an organic sense of what is real.
  • Dance or sing out loud to your favorite music (with an upbeat tempo).
  • Clench your muscles and then release.
  • Spend time with trusted supports doing regular everyday “light things.”
  • Discuss with your therapist a sensory approach to your treatment planning.

Mobilization as empowerment
  • Mobilize
    • One of the most empowering things that we can do when we feel despair to increase hope is to take action. It can restore our sense of control.  We don’t feel so powerless. 
      • You can explore ways of taking specific action to address a particular setback.
      • You can do something that might not address a global crisis directly, but improves your neck of the woods whether that’s your community, your family, your friends, your neighborhood block or your well-being.

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
― Robert F. Kennedy

Below are some links to information that provide more information on some of the items discussed here. As always, reach out if you have comments about this journal entry or need more information:

You can find other soundbites related to preparation for therapy here .  Stay in tune with issues related to your well-being and mental health right here in the Urim Recovery Journal updated 2x a week.

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