Previously published in Forbes
There’s plenty to worry about right now. There’s the big stuff, like rising Delta variant cases and states burning up or drowning because of global warming. There’s the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Wondering if your kids will get to stay in school or if they will be back home-schooling at the kitchen table again soon.
There are also the causes that call us to unlearn deeply ingrained habits — Black Lives Matter, the #metoo movement, undoing all of the isms. And then, if you’re like me, there are the garden-variety worries: Stress and strain from too much time in front of a screen now that the whole world works virtually. Family members who won’t get the Covid-19 vaccine. Fear of isolation as winter comes and brings uncertainty about rising infection rates and what that means for the holiday season.
It’s a lot.
Particularly when we’re overloaded like this, mental health is an absolute priority. As the tide of fear and worry and concern rises, you must climb into a lifeboat. The following are three tips to help you do just that.
Tip #1: Embrace Paradox
Embracing paradox is about expanding your ability to deal with two opposing things at once. For example, things are terrible, and things are amazing. Both are true, depending on where you are looking.
In the midst of the crush of a day’s work, I get up and go for a walk in my neighborhood. I don’t put on a headset or listen to a podcast. I listen to the birds sing. I listen to the wind ruffle through the trees overhead. I listen to my own heartbeat. And somehow, I connect for a moment with what is good and true and beautiful — knowing, of course, that all the heartbreaking stuff is still going on in the world all around me. It’s both.
The brain doesn’t love paradox. The brain likes things to be simple and clear, which is why judgments come so easily: It’s either good or bad. Right or wrong. You are either with me or against me. One or the other.
But holding both is the work. It is possible to be both right and wrong at the same time.
Tip #2: Take a Media Fast
Fasting has become a bit of a trend lately, but it has deep roots. For centuries, religious people have encouraged fasting from food in order to clarify thinking and deepen prayer and gratitude.
Recently, the idea of a “media fast” has caught on. A media fast can help lower your stress and quiet down the internal fretting. As an extra bonus, you might also be delivered several hours a day back into your hands to use in better ways. My smartphone now reports that I spend over two hours a day on media. That’s a bunch of time I could get back in a week or a month.
So how do you do it? First, decide on how long you will go without media. A week? A month? Then, decide what media is for you. Is it social media? Is it the news? Is it all of it — music, podcasts, news, Netflix, the weather, etc.? Then, figure out what steps to take to get off it.
If your challenge is checking the news on your phone, delete your news apps. If you get swept into binge-watching TV on a streaming service, that might be the place to target your fast. You may have to cut down rather than cut out. For example, if checking email compulsively is your problem, you might try checking email just once or twice a day. Any progress is good progress.
Tip #3 Keep Striving and Practice Self-Compassion
Give yourself a break. Find some self-compassion. Tell yourself that you are doing great. There’s plenty to worry over, no doubt about it. Keep striving. Keep finding one productive action you can take. And then be gentle with your sweet self and others. We’re all just finding our way, one footfall at a time. Some days I do better than others. Some days I have to mop up mess after mess in my life and my communication. But I keep going.
These are challenging times, to be sure. And they are calling for new muscles from each of us. You can submit to despair and handwringing, or you can get up and do something that moves you along toward a better outcome for the day. I know you can do this.