There certainly is a whole lot of troubling and heart wrenching news in the world today and this current atmosphere can give our minds endless fuel to race, worry, and catastrophize. While many stories of adversity in the media spotlight are real, the stories in our minds that the world is going to hell in a hand basket may not be.
Our brains are designed to project into the future in an attempt to predict worst-case scenarios as this was crucial for the survival of our ancestors. However, in modern times it doesn’t do us any good to continue in a state of auto-pilot with a hyper-aroused nervous system, spreading worry and negativity throughout our social circles.
Spreading catastrophic stories through our social networks creates a contagion of emotional suffering.
We already get enough of that through the news. Mainstream media knows that our eyeballs fuse to the screen at signs of danger and it capitalizes on that in order to sell products featured in commercials. It’s a business, and the bottom line is making money by playing on our concerns.
Sadly, the media isn’t going to make a big fuss about the millions and millions of dollars invested into mindfulness and compassion research globally, or about the police officers who paid the check of a couple who refuse to sit next to them at a restaurant, or about the millions of people all over the world quietly working daily to be present to support people’s emotional needs.
But there’s a way to work with the negativity bias of the mind and the media and it’s beautifully simple – when your mind races, notice the story lines it’s creating and remind yourself that thoughts aren’t facts.
This doesn’t mean that we should be blind to the atrocities and problems of the world. On the contrary, it’s important to be aware so we can wake up enough to make the world a better place in whatever ways we can. In order to do this, we need to balance our nervous systems when it comes to challenges, and make choices about what we realistically can and can’t do about them.
If you’re impacted emotionally by world events (as many of us are), first recognize the difficulty of it all – this step can help you “wake up.” Then practice self-compassion to soothe your own nervous system and bring clarity on what the next wise action can be. If you feel pulled, practice compassion – get involved in a way that betters the world if you can. For example, getting on the internet to research ways to support a case that’s meaningful to you is an action of compassion.
To me, the serenity prayer – grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference – helps me to wake up and focus on what matters.
Mindfulness helps create space for us to take action for a better world. Getting space from our stories is a practice – one that’s really worthwhile investing in.
Creator of six-month online mentorship program, A Course in Mindful Living
Author of Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion