With the escalation of terrorism, the police shootings of African Americans, assaults upon police officers, and crimes against the LGBTQ community, often the recent psychotherapy sessions occurring with my clients have taken a different direction.
Previously the focus for therapy was usually on personal stressors, while now there is a new trend in the psychotherapy sessions. Due to the current increase in world violence, there is a lessening of focus on the usual topics regarding problematic relationship issues, feelings of grief around the loss of a loved one, career stress and parenting problems.
Though these issues may not have resolved, or disappeared, there is increased attention on dealing with the anxiety and fear many of us are experiencing due to the continuous occurrence of new world tragedies. The conversation during therapy, or with our friends and loved ones, often revolves around how these events have affected how we feel and our ability to cope.
Many of us have experienced our dismay of beholding recurring tragedies expand into a sense of disbelief about what is happening in our world. We are left to struggle with the uncertainty of what may happen next. Thoughts may surface in our mind that breed our fear and insecurity.
Will I be a target because I am…
- African American
- In law enforcement
…or just because?
The hate, rage, and mental illness of those who unpredictably lash out has become devastating for most of us, and unimaginably traumatizing for many of us.
Previously we might have experienced unbridled excitement about attending an event, or a concert—we made a celebration out of the occasion. Yet now our thoughts about entering these experiences are completely different from before. For many of us, the thought of attending is accompanied with trepidation and reticence.
Reluctance may surface and surround our usual desire to attend typical crowded events such as:
- A fireworks celebration
- A sports event
- A concert
- A political rally
…for fear that something unspeakable may happen.
Some of us are noticing that occasionally upon waking up there is a low-grade anxiety, depression or fear tainting our perspective of the coming day. An unfamiliar tension fills our body. It may be difficult to identify the source of the distress because everything in our personal world feels okay.
Lately many of us have struggled with the unfamiliar experience of a subtle sadness, or unease within ourselves, despite enjoying a satisfying relationships career, and circle of friends.
The thought of shattering our inner harmony each morning by turning on Good Morning America, or listening to the radio, or watching CNN, brings unease and the fear that something else may have happened.
According to Graham C.L. Davey, Ph.D, expert in anxiety and professor of psychology at the University of Sussex, “If the TV program generates negative mood experiences (e.g. anxiety, sadness, anger, disgust), then these experiences will affect how you interpret events in your own life, what types of memories you recall, and how much you will worry about events in your own life.”
Previously these activities were a part of our normal day, and looked forward to as part of our routine. With 24-hour news coverage, and the instant notifications from social media and satellite TV, whether we want it or not, there is an almost immediate visual record of what is happening throughout the world.
Some may notice an increasing avoidance of the activities, and habits, which previously were part of a normal routine.
With all that is happening in the world, how do we maintain joy within ourselves, our relationships, with our family, our friends, and our careers?
We want and need to feel informed about what is occurring in the world, but it’s important that we place time parameters on how much we read and watch distressing events. The trauma of what’s happening in the world starts to absorb into one’s being, even if we are not aware of it. The result could contribute to an unidentifiable feeling of low-grade anxiety, fear, and a feeling of being unsafe.
How can we live our life without unintentionally allowing a preoccupation with the world events crush our ability to stay informed and diminish our joy?
Here are a few tips to avoid absorbing the world tragedies, and extinguishing our joy:
- It is important to talk about our feelings with emotionally safe people in our life. If you notice you are feeling better and lighter when doing so that means you’re releasing the feelings in an emotionally healthy way.
- If you notice that by talking about your feelings that your anxiety or fear is raising, it may mean you are talking about it too much and need to shift gears.
How do we distinguish between what is just enough, and what is too much?
Utilize a thought stopping technique.
If we find we are consistently thinking about the tragedies that have occurred and that it feels difficult to let those thoughts go, and that there is almost an obsessive preoccupation, then it might be important to use a thought stopping technique.
The one I share with my clients is that these thoughts are hurting me, not helping me.
- Say that phrase (“These thoughts are hurting me, not helping me.”) to stop the thought, and then breathe, so then you can say, “Let me bring myself back to this moment and what feels good in my life.”
If we discover we are consistently watching television, or reading the newspaper, or listening to the radio, then it might be really important to put time parameters around the amount of time you engage in these activities.
Most of us know that we do not want to stop living our lives. We want to involve ourselves in the things we love to do. Yet we can’t help but be tempted, at times, to do just that. If you struggle with an overwhelming fear from the recent tragedies of the world, speaking with a trusted psychotherapist at Long Island’s Nassau Guidance and Counseling can help alleviate that burden. Our licensed therapists have helped many people find methods to cope with events out of our control, and find an inner peace.