You can't change the world.
I know Gandhi said to be the change you wish to see in the world, but you can't change the world. Take the burdens off of your shoulders, because it is impossible for any one person to bear the weight of the sins against humanity.
To immerse yourself in the sorrow and suffering and dying of the Yazidis, of the Palestinians, of Sierra Leone and Liberia and Guinea is to ensure that you will become one of the suffering. Worrying endlessly about the wanton deaths and violence in Chicago does no good for you because it makes you yet another victim, viscerally feeling the fear and pain that permeates many neighborhoods and families. Feeling the pain of the captured women and children in Iraq and Nigeria brings only pain.
Sometimes I think people imagine themselves to be so important that they must be the world's worry stone, wearing themselves down with every new report of every new atrocity. To them I say, you are not important, You are not the sole being who can change the world.
You can't change the world.
It's a lot like the innocent children who think it's all their fault their parents divorced. Whether or not they understand the underlying issues, they still attribute more importance to themselves, believing themselves to be the butterfly in a chaotic world. It's called "magical thinking," except in this case, adults know they didn't cause genocide or war.
Instead, they think they have the power to fix things, particularly if they share it enough on social media, write about it enough, worry about it enough.
I see it happening to many of my friends, the ones with empathetic and big hearts, who can easily slip into the shoes of one of the suffering and feel everything that is happening to them. I used to do the same thing all the time. It's so, so easy to start crying, to share in the pain, to share the trauma. It becomes obsessive in a way, with reading story after story in the news, compulsively checking to see if there have been any improvement or changes or new news just so you can stop worrying.
And I've done all that, and suffered for it.
The problem is, it puts them at great risk for developing anxiety disorders and depression. In other words, they'll get burned out, and fast, if they don't put up mental boundaries for their own health.
I can't quite tell whether my depression and anxiety made me latch onto various world events as a means of distracting myself from my own pain, or if reading the news exacerbated the depression and anxiety. All I know it turns into a vicious cycle of sleepless nights, nightmares, and obsessive/compulsive tweeting and Facebooking and and worrying.
Remember, you can't change the world. Neither can my friends. Nor I.
What's the best way of managing this kind of worry and anxiety? Put down the phone and back away from the computer.
No, I'm serious. Take breaks from social media. You don't need to check Twitter every second, or Facebook every hour. Stop refreshing the page on various news sites. Better yet, close the damned tabs. Switch over to fun single-serving sites like CakeWrecks and Dog Shaming (or Cat Shaming) if you must be online.
If you're tracking a story dear to you, limit yourself to checking back for updates two or three times a day. It's unlikely that the hurricane will change drastically the very next minute, or that Israel and Palestine will reach a peace deal before the next time you check back. And if they do, the world won't end if we don't know about it that very second. We'll be able to read all about it the next time we bring up the New York Times.
When shocking news comes out and all your friends are sharing it on Facebook, you have my explicit permission to close your Facebook tab for several hours until it dies down. I had to do that when some people posted links with disturbing images about the Yazidi and executions/kidnappings. I saw it, and I knew that I already was feeling a bit down and emotional, so I didn't read it.
That's the important part. I didn't read it. Not yet anyway.
The second most important part is that I actually closed my Facebook tab and did not check back for several hours, just because I knew all my friends would be talking about it. It wasn't until later that day did I log back onto Facebook and picked one even-handed article about the Yazidi to read--at a time when I was emotionally stronger and more able to distance myself from their plight.
I still empathized, but I didn't ruminate. I didn't allow myself to slip into their shoes and feel visceral pain and sadness, because it does me and them no good. There's not much I can do for them right now--no fundraisers for relief services, and our government is doing what it can to provide assistance so I don't need to write to politicians to ask them to help. Because of that, there is no sense worrying.
Better to save my emotional energy and effort toward something I can help change, like calling 311 or 911 for the homeless in distress or need of attention, or encouraging others to donate food or money to charities, whether it's the local Greater Chicago Food Depository or the global UNICEF.
And then after I do my part, (and this is REALLY hard to do), I have to set aside the worry for a while so I can destress.
So, to sum this all up:
- You can't change the world
- Don't worry about the things you can't help with
- Limit news and social media time to protect your mental health
- Worry about the things you CAN help with
- Take action to help with those things
- Set aside the worry and find inner peace
Just remember, you can't change the world.
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