Stress. Chaos. Loss of hope. Sometimes even words can fall short when describing the events of these times. The events in Washington D.C. over the course of the past week have been exceptionally difficult and chaotic in a year that was already so exceptionally difficult and chaotic. It can be hard to know where to go or what to do from here when here can seem like such a dark place to be.
For me, the first step is often the simple but meaningful act of meeting myself where I am at. Right now, it might not be a great place for all of us. It might be irritable. Or scared. We might realize we have much less energy than we may in any other circumstances. But for me, admitting the reality of where I am at can feel less like I am trying to stick a Band-Aid on top of a gaping wound, and more like I am trying to find a lighthouse of hope through turbulent waters.
Here are some tips for finding our way through the darkness.
Use healthy distraction.
One of my favorite Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) skills for getting out of the emotional danger zone safely is the ACCEPTS skill, which is an acronym for different kinds of distraction. Although distraction is not an effective long-term effective coping strategy, in the short term it can be incredibly helpful. The E stands for emotions, more particularly to seek experiences where you can experience emotions differently than the one you are currently experiencing. If you are feeling sad and hopeless, watching a funny movie. If you are feeling angry, listening to calming music.
Connect with values and take committed action steps towards them.
It can often be helpful to reflect on values that are important to you. This can include concrete notions like “Family” or “Health,” but it can also be less tangible concepts such as “Justice,” “Vulnerability,” and “Honesty.” Reflect how in line you feel like you are with your values at this particular moment in time. Are there any small ways you can take a step towards one of your stated values today?
Realize what you can and cannot control.
Whenever I am running a therapy group with a particularly frustrated or hopeless milieu, I tend to do a group called circles of control. I draw a large circle on the board and title it “things out of my control.” In a slightly smaller circle within I write “things I can influence.” In the smallest circle within both of those, I write “things I can control.” It can be a helpful visual reminder and activity that there is so much in the world that is out of our control we can get frustrated, angry, and hopeless about. But when we spend all of our energy in the circle of things we cannot control, we lose the opportunity to try to influence and control the things we can.
Find hope where you can get it.
I’m often inspired by the Mr. Rogers quote, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” When I find myself at a loss of hope, I try to connect myself to mindful practices like this that increase the hope I am able to see in the world.