The past few years have been trying times for the United States. The nation has been rocked by natural disasters, legislative and physical assaults on human rights, as well as mass shootings and other domestic terror attacks. Tragedy has seemed to be waiting for us around every corner, and with the 24-hour newsreel playing out on our phones and televisions, it’s hard to not be consumed by it.
As human beings we should always extend our hearts and hands to show compassion to those in need, but this should not come at the expense of our own mental, emotional and physical health. By ignoring ourselves and our needs in a crisis, not only do we add to the toll which these events take, but we become ineffective helpers–defeating our intent.
In the wake of the Pulse Nightclub shooting, I felt obligated as a member of the queer community to stay as informed as possible and do anything that I could to help those affected. This very quickly began to take a toll on me. Hearing the initial reports was devastating, but continuing to be constantly surrounded by the news on this unfolding event was draining me of everything I had.
All of my energy, both physically and mentally, was being directed towards the shooting. Once exhausted, I was left only with my negative emotions and the tragedy still very much at hand. Because of this my depression skyrocketed. I ate less, and what I did consume was mostly comfort food, which didn’t nourish my mind or my body
I couldn’t get much sleep either. Whenever I opened social media or turned on the news, I ended up crying either out of sadness or anger. In my efforts to stay socially aware and try to help, I only destroyed myself. I wasn’t helping anyone.
These extreme efforts only end up with null intent in the long run. There is only so much that can be done, and holding yourself accountable for more than you are capable of doing is an unreasonable expectation. In order to be an effective force in times of tragedy, you need to extend yourself the same compassion you do to those directly impacted. Show yourself that attentiveness, that kindness and care.
One of the best things you can do for yourself in times of crisis is to unplug just a bit. While being updated on information and events is important, you do not need to be constantly tuned in to what is going on.
One thing you can do to combat this behavior is restricting your news media consumption to once a day; pick a time frame when you can check social media outlets or news channels. I prefer to do this at night as most developments will be released by then, and this doesn’t let my day be consumed by the news.
Another strategy is to practice self-care. This is a much broader idea which can mean different things for different people. What it boils down to is taking time for yourself to do things which make you happy. Whether that’s doing skincare, binge-watching a TV series or eating a guilty treat, so long as it makes you happy and is done solely for you, that’s self care. My self-care practice usually involves making things. I love the act of creating, putting effort into something and then bringing it into existence.
This may sound very grandiose, but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes this just means cooking myself a spaghetti dinner, other times it means drawing in my sketchbook. Creating keeps me busy, and can help me take my mind off of what’s troubling me. While it’s a simple act, the knowledge that I made something, no matter how small, always brings me pride and joy.
Helping in times of need, showing compassion and empathy towards our fellows, is something that makes us human. It’s a beautiful and important action. But we cannot forget to extend ourselves that same kindness.