By Jodi Baretz, LCSW, CHHC
Lately, it seems like on a weekly basis we are hearing about some awful terrorist attack, or act of gun violence. Our flags are constantly at half mast, and we barely mourn one tragedy before another one hits. This is a constant reminder of how intolerance, hate and racism are still present around the world. This unrest adds to the chronic anxiety many of us already feel on a daily basis.
The tragedies we hear about are real, but we have to be mindful of the stories we tell ourselves. It is easy to get carried away with doomsday scenarios, because our hyperactive brains are programmed for survival.
The 24-hour media coverage of shootings, killings and terrorist events perpetuates worry, and creates anxiety. The media often seems to thrive on fear because they know you will tune in. The reality is that “we didn’t start the fire, it was always burning since the world’s been turning.” It just seems that the Armageddon is closer now than ever before.
“If every eight year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.” –Dalai Lama
While we are so down on the events of the day, we must remember that our current society is much better off than in the past. For example, look at the changes in the LGBT community. It is much safer now for teens and adults alike to be proud and embrace who they are, without tremendous fear of persecution. Additionally, in the past, children with Down’s Syndrome would be institutionalized, and now they are often mainstreamed and have become valued members of society. Remarkably, there is a black President in the White House, which had been unthinkable just a short time ago. We certainly have come a long way, and hopefully can continue along this path.
Nonetheless, the recent awful news has an effect on us, especially those of us with children. We worry about them growing up in a world that is volatile. We worry when they travel overseas. We worry about them being exposed to hate and violence at such a young age. How do we cope with the weight of the world on our shoulders?
Mindfulness practices are not only ways that we can improve focus and be present, but also ways to cultivate love, compassion and bring peace to ourselves and others. When we practice meditation and mindfulness, we open our hearts and realize that although we have different beliefs, races, and religions, we all share a common thing–humanity. We can begin to notice our judgments and biases. Look at your own life and be curious if there are others you have unfairly judged or rejected because they are different than you.
Listen to your self-talk, and notice without judging yourself how your biases and beliefs have affected you. We each have to do our part to be more understanding of others and accept those who are different than ourselves.
A story I heard at a seminar about a soldier returning from Iraq can speak to compassion and non-judgment. He was having difficulty managing his stress and anger, and enrolled in a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class. He was at a supermarket behind a woman that was handing over her baby to the cashier and delaying his check out. He would normally have said something, but waited and felt the frustration course through his body. When he got to the front of the line, he asked the cashier about the baby, and she revealed that her husband was killed in Iraq, that was her baby, and her mother was watching her because she couldn’t afford child care.
So, what can we do to protect ourselves from sadness, depression and anxiety that the world puts on our shoulders? Shutting off the news every so often, as well as turning off social media, can give our minds a break from the onslaught of negativity. Noticing when your mind races and when you are creating stories that are not facts, help to work with the brains negativity bias. Learning to sit with sadness and grief, without letting it take over our whole beings can be a helpful practice for coping. When compassion and kindness win out we have less hate, anger and intolerance. In addition, being good role models for our children is crucial, because they are watching us all the time. What we say matters. When we engage in these behaviors daily, hopefully, person-by-person, we can change the world, and make a difference.
Jodi Baretz, LCSW, CHHC is a psychotherapist, mindfulness and holistic health coach at The Center for Health and Healing in Mount Kisco. She is the founder of the program and upcoming book, “Mindful is the New Skinny.”