By Liz Greene
If the word of my therapist is anything to go on, the state of our country is starting to have an incredibly detrimental effect on deeply empathetic peoples’ mental health. With the constant barrage of highly charged political issues coming from left, right, and center, most of us can’t catch our breath before being beaten over the head again with rhetoric and half-baked ideology. Comments sections everywhere have emerged as the go to place for ridicule, abuse, and hate speech. Offices have gone silent, friendships have ended, and even families are being torn apart. It’s starting to feel like nowhere is sacred or safe anymore.
When I find the burden of current events to be overwhelming, I turn my focus to relieving stress and finding my center. Here are a few simple methods to help you do the same:
Log Off Social Media
According to Rutgers University, 65 percent of adults use social media regularly. For the 43 percent of us who are constant checkers — that is, people who continually check their inbox, text messages, and social media accounts — this endless “connected” state is increasing our stress levels. But why?
The relationship between stress and social media use is indirect. The use of social media itself isn’t behind stress, rather it’s the way it increases our awareness of upsetting events in others’ lives that results in users feeling more stressed. And since present-day social media is practically overflowing with distressing national and world news, bizarre political controversies, and the sorrowful stories of people facing extreme hardship, it’s no wonder the highly sensitive people of the world are feeling out of sorts.
The answer to this problem is to simply log out of your social media accounts and take a week or two off. Though it can be incredibly hard to do this — the fear of missing out is real — you’ll find yourself breathing easier. It also has the added benefit of helping you to be more present in the moment. Speaking of which …
Tune In To Yourself
If you haven’t gotten into mindful meditation yet, it’s about time you gave it the ol’ college try. Mindfulness can help to ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain. If you practice it regularly, you can actually keep future stressors from having a significant impact on your happiness and physical well-being.
If you’re new to the practice, start with the “STOP” method of mindfulness:
- Stop what you’re doing and close your eyes.
- Take a few breaths. Focus on inhaling and exhaling.
- Observe how your body feels. Shift your awareness to your thoughts and emotions.
- Perceive sounds in the room. Listen to them come and go.
Do your best to avoid labelling your thoughts or feelings as being good or bad, right or wrong. Instead, just let your introspections be what they are! Once you’re familiar with the STOP method, you can learn to practice mindfulness in many other ways throughout your day — from eating meals to watching your favorite show!
Pop on Some Tunes
Music’s extraordinary link to our emotions has made it an exceptionally powerful stress management tool. Studies have shown that listening to calming music can slow heart rate, lower blood pressure, and decrease the levels of stress hormones in our systems. Music also acts as a meditation aid, preventing the mind from wandering and allowing us to explore our emotions. Indeed, the stress-relieving power of music is so remarkable that it’s often used in medical settings, from classrooms to operating rooms.
Crack Open a Book
What’s better than listening to relaxing music? According to a 2009 study from the University of Sussex, reading can reduce stress levels by as much as 68 percent. Participants who read for just six minutes experienced a slowed heart rate and reduced muscle tension. The results aren’t all that surprising when you think about it. Reading is a healthy distraction — and when you’re looking to take your mind off of current events, what’s better than escaping to a different world entirely?
Set aside 30 minutes every day to read in a quiet place. Choose subject matter that speaks to your interests. You don’t have to stick with fiction — reading about an activity that you enjoy, such as travel or cooking, works just as well. You don’t even have to read books! Magazines and comic books are fantastic options too!
Though exposure to nature has been shown to reduce stress and boost well-being, scientists aren’t sure why. Some consider fresh air, sunshine, and an innate fondness for plants to be potential factors, but others think it might be something else entirely. A group of researchers from Stanford University think that nature might decrease stress levels by reducing rumination. Rumination is what happens when you obsessively focus on what’s distressing you — its symptoms, causes, and consequences — rather than attempting to solve the problem.
Participants in the Stanford study who walked for 90 minutes through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness. Those who walked through an urban environment saw little change. These results suggest that natural areas may indeed be a vital stress-relieving tool — not to mention incredibly beneficial to our overall mental health.
Though it isn’t easy to shut out the world (nor is it always beneficial), every once in awhile it becomes a mental health necessity. If you feel like the weight of the world is on the verge of crushing you into a diamond, take some time to logout of social media, turn on some music, grab a good book, take a walk, and find your center. When you’re ready to go back, the world will be there waiting.