Another week, another tragedy. I was up before dawn to drive to a conference when tragic news, from the far side of the globe, jolted me awake. If you ever wonder if we’re all connected, notice how fast bad news travels.
Remember John Donne’s poem, written in 1621 when he himself was sick, “No Man is an Island?” He continues: “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”
Four hundred years have not changed its relevance.
I began to wonder how I could keep my heart open with compassion for the world without feeling toppled by the weight of its tragedies?
For those of us who label ourselves “sensitive,” this is a real issue.
Another learning from dog land
Once again, I’m learning from the world of dog training (now drawing from BAT (Behavior Adjustment Training). My dog, Jackson, has been known to change, seemingly instantly, from Mr. Sweetheart to Mr. Watch-My-Fangs. I’m learning that he’s not a bad dog, he just gets pushed beyond the threshold of stimulation he can tolerate–for example, people or dogs showing up unexpectedly. He then has a doggy melt-down and begins his ferocious bark.
Since he has no tools for politely saying, “This is pushing my boundaries,” I have to watch out for him and learn to read the subtle signs of his becoming tense. When he’s in panic mode, it’s too late. My job is to challenge him to learn, without overstimulating him.
Life in an overstimulated world
We humans also become overstimulated by an environment where we can receive round the clock (bad) news, plus anxiety-provoking situations, such as politics, the economy or Seattle traffic. If we’re fatigued as we try to process it all, we may slip over our edge. We don’t bark, but we may freeze up, feel depressed, want to lash out, become exhausted, eat too much or not enough, drop the ball on a project–reacting in whatever is our default behavior.
My M.O. is to feel depressed and exhausted.
Sometimes my heart breaks after hearing the story of just one refugee family from Syria, let alone the enormity of the refugee crisis.
Stresses cumulate, as they do for Jackson. I need to learn when to pull back and calm, even if it means disconnecting from news of the world, at least for a while.
When the world starts weighing you down.
Here’s what I’m discovering.
See the gift
Recognize that your sensitivity, empathy, and compassion are sacred gifts, which may, in turn, weigh you down. You feel what is happening. Your intuition informs you about the pain of others. You’re moved by the world. How beautiful is that? Just remember, this gift comes with a price, one that requires learning to care for yourself.
On balance, isn’t it worth it?
Note to self: it’s normal to be depressed around mass shootings.
Take care of your body.
Sleep and eat decently. When I am tired and hungry, my sensitivities escalate, and I lose my ability to put life into perspective. I’ve learned not to make verdicts about the future when I’m exhausted. Better to eat some whole foods, go to bed early, and pray for more light in the morning.
Be careful generalizing about the world.
Bad news has a way of going viral, while good news just waits in the wings. I cringe with the latest foolish declarations from Washington, D.C. But babies keep being born, inventions created, scientists make amazing discoveries, and poets keep writing. And even politicians with whom I don’t agree are probably doing good work on many fronts. At least I hope so.
Take care of your energy level and sign off when needed.
It saddens me to know that some friends don’t listen to the news at all. I prefer to try for balance, which means listening to some news without letting it depress me
It’s hard to change the world when you’re feeling crippled by the news of the world.
Recognize the signs of over-stimulation.
When over-stimulated, Jackson goes on high alert. I’m trying to learn to read my signs of being over-stimulated or living off adrenalin. You don’t have to do it all. It’s 100% OK to cancel an engagement and pull back from a party if you need to be in a calm space and recover.
I can rebound by engaging creatively. When you create something you care about (poem, pasta, crossword puzzle) the process will slow you down, invite you to focus, engage your mind, and help you to express what you’re feeling, Plus you end up with something cool.
Creating is my favorite way to brain-flush.
Take a small step.
Action, however small, melts the numbness when I feel “it’s all too much.” Even making a phone call can bring a tiny sense of agency back into life.
If you are highly empathic, you may need a special program of grounding skills. You probably intuitively do this by taking a walk in nature, doing tai chi, yoga or meditation, or finding a way to feel rooted and connected to yourself and your surroundings. When I am grounded some of the pain I experience in the world can run through me without plugging up my heart.
Savor the bright moments.
This week, nature blessed Seattle-ites with unseasonably warm weather and blue skies, offering a window of early Spring, and making up, just a bit, for the blizzard that inflicted so much damage a few weeks ago. Thanks to nature’s gift, my mood has lifted, and the world feels less heavy. I am grateful.
Hear the music.
I offer a small treat below, just because.
As we navigate stressful times, when we have immediate access to pains from around the world, we need to take extra care of ourselves so that we can function without checking out.
The weight of the world doesn’t look like it’s going to get lighter any time soon, but we can learn to both feel it deeply and let it go.
“Don’t ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for you.”
To our brethren in Christchurch.
And now, if you need a lift…