In this very unique year of 2020, no one needs a reminder that stress, turmoil, and unease are almost daily occurrences. As Americans, we knew it would be a tumultuous year politically, entering a presidential election year in a country marked by increasingly divisive politics. As citizens of the world, however, few of us could have predicted the impact of a “novel coronavirus” that (as of today) taken the lives of 962,480 people, including 203,880 Americans (cf: worldometer). Devastating wildfires in the American west and an unusually strong and destructive hurricane season the the American southeast have wreaked havoc on the lives of millions of our compatriots. And even if we have been spared direct impact from any of these or other disasters, it takes conscious and sustained effort to shield ourselves from the daily onslaught of anxiety-triggering Facebook posts, tweets, and the never-ending cycle of “breaking news” not to feel the toll of such external stressors.
All this on top of the stressors of our individual, family, professional, and social lives!
So what’s a human to do? Here are three simple things.
- Breathe! That may sound utterly too simple, but there is immense evidence from both long human experience and more recent scientific research that shows the relationship between breathing (i.e. how we breathe) on our emotional state. This article from the University of Michigan School of Medicine on Stress Management provides a basic overview.
- Pay Attention! One of the basic insights of cognitive-behavioral therapy recognizes the link between our thoughts and our emotions. How I feel is linked to what I’m thinking. So, by paying attention to what’s going on inside my head – my thoughts, ideas, distractions, fantasies, daydreams … all of it – I can understand more (and eventually change) how I’m feeling.
- Talk to Someone! I’m the first to admit that having a good friend or confidant is one of the best things to promote emotional well-being. Cultivating such relationships is an act of self-care, an act where we not only can share our inner selves, but also be privileged to share in the life of another.
Pax et bonum!