When we teach about managing toxic stress at Cypress, one of the things we talk about is how our experience of toxic stress is often coupled with a sense of helplessness. Our brains experience increased stress when we feel like we don’t have power to change the situation – when we feel small in the face of uncertainty.
Today’s world is full of such events isn’t it? COVID-19, the attack on Ukraine, climate change, economic disparities – all of the things we see in the news can have such a huge impact on our health and our sense of well-being. And worse, we can feel as though there is little we can do to help ourselves or others.
It’s okay to not be okay. Over six million people have died during the pandemic and we have had to manage so many transitions and changes during the last two years that it is reasonable to be feeling that stress. Watching the impacts of war on innocent people is terrible and many of us may be having trouble sleeping at night or concentrating at work. Week-after-week we see the impacts of the climate crisis – floods, fires, heat waves – it’s okay to feel overwhelmed and afraid. Watching neighbors around us struggle to maintain access to food and shelter is hard on our hearts. If you are feeling the emotional, physical, mental and spiritual impacts of the world around us, you are NOT alone!
Sometimes when we feel overwhelmed it can help to “get back to the basics.” For me that means taking small actions that help me feel as though I have some control over my world. I may tidy up, or make some healthy food, or head outside for a dog walk. Taking some small actions help me feel as though I have some “I got this” moments in my day.
It may also help to take small actions about things we feel overwhelmed about. We may donate to a cause or write to an elected official about something we are concerned about. We may repost something on social media that feels important to share. We can volunteer in our community to help us feel like we are part of something larger than ourselves. We can educate ourselves about something and make changes in our lives.
All of these things are helpful. But most helpful is that simple acknowledgment that we may struggle from time-to-time – that it’s okay to not be okay. And when we give ourselves permission to struggle – we offer others the same opportunity. Then they feel that they can let us know the truth of what they are going through too. And that’s how we get through this – by supporting one another and being connected when we don’t feel okay.