Self-Care for the End of the World
It’s hard to fight the good fight from the depths of despair. Revive your stressed-out soul with three soothing strategies.
Feeling beaten down by the news of the day? A walk in the woods will do you good.
I don’t know about you, but lately it’s been hard to keep my emotions under control when I think about the dumpster fire the world is turning into. Being the emotionally available eco-warrior I am, I’m likely to Rachel-Maddow-cry just reading the news.
Politics aside — because I just can’t write about the impending-Holocaust horrors of US politics today — the world as we know it seems to be headed for disaster. Polar ice caps are melting faster than ever, animals continue to approach extinction, and recently I watched a video of birds who died because they ate too much plastic.
If you haven’t tapped out of engaging with the world — and clearly you haven’t, because you’re reading this article — it can be emotionally draining to continue to fight the good fight. You’ve got to take care of yourself and the people you love, so you can keep showing up to marches, making informed choices when you shop, and calling your representatives to make your concerns known (I’m looking at you Mr. Pipeline-Owner Trudeau).
Here are three practices — or self-care life hacks as the kids say — to help soothe your soul.
Take in the good
It can be easy to fall into a downward spiral when you’re staying on top of the news. The media tends to focus on upsetting stories, thanks to the whole “if it bleeds it leads” prerogative. However, every now and then good news makes it into our lives. In order to keep your happy-brain-chemical levels up, you should “focus on the good.” It’s a technique I learned from the work of Buddhist psychologist Rick Hanson.
Here’s how it works:
- Step 1. You witness or hear of something that makes you feel good. Like your friend finally brought their reusable mug to the coffee shop, you read that the City of Victoria won their case for banning plastic bags, or you just found out that UNESCO has removed the Belize Barrier Reef from its list of endangered World Heritage Sites! See it, hear it, witness this good moment, and feel happy.
- Step 2. Experience the good feeling fully. Maybe you’re feeling hope for the future. Maybe it’s appreciation that your nagging about single-use items finally sank in. Savour that experience for 30 seconds. Feel the positive emotion as intensely as possible. Focus on where the good feeling lives in your body, take a deep breath and enjoy it.
- Step 3. Imagine and sense those good feelings becoming a part of you. This is where you do some visualization. Yes, it’s a little woo-woo, but it works! I like to imagine a warm glow of energy flowing through my body like an internal fire has been stoked.
That’s it. Try to do this three times a day, to rewire your brain for gratitude and positivity. Have you met Bucky the Squirrel? His heartwarming story should bring out some warm fuzzies for you to practice “Taking in the Good.”
You love nature so much, why don’t you get out and walk in it? Seriously. Enjoy what’s around you, even if it’s a city park or a tree-lined street. A walk in the woods will do you good.
A report from Natural England shows that participating in outdoor activities helps improve mental health, and reduces anxiety, depression and stress. Similarly, in 2015, the University of Derby and the UK’s Wildlife Trusts challenged people to “do something wild” every day for 30 consecutive days. The results showed a scientifically significant improvement in people’s health, happiness, and connection to nature, not just throughout the challenge, but months after it was over.
Dr Miles Richardson, the psychology professor who studied the impacts of the challenge, explained that there’s already evidence that exposure to nature can improve many facets of health: blood pressure, respiratory and cardiovascular health, vitality and mood, anxiety levels, attention, and mental fatigue. Beyond the physical health benefits, enjoying nature is connected to many mental health benefits such as life satisfaction, happiness, and reduced cognitive anxiety.
Dr. Richardson told BBC Earth, “There is a need to normalise everyday nature as part of a healthy lifestyle.” As sustainability advocates, I think that’s something we can all get behind. Perhaps you might want to give yourself a 30 Days Wild challenge, and track your own emotional changes. Or, if you want a richer outdoor experience, you could try forest bathing.
Just remember, when you’re heading out into the wild: take your earbuds out, put your phone on silent or airplane mode, and, for an extra boost, bring a good friend. For an extra extra boost, hold hands!
Notice you’re alright right now
Mindfulness is a buzzword right now, and for good reason — it’s proven effective at lessening anxiety and lowering the stress hormone cortisol. Since our world is full of beeping, ringing, and vibrating notifications, we need to train our mind to focus.
So, practice being present. Sure the world is falling apart, but wherever you are right now reading these words, you are basically okay. You’re living a privileged life. The majority of people on earth don’t even have Internet access, let alone awareness of this delightful and life-changing article. Yes, reminding yourself how good you’ve got it is a little first-worldy, but if it keeps you together to fight another day, it’s well worth acknowledging. You can get through this moment, and the next, and right now.
Here’s the deal: as much as you may feel you’ve evolved beyond the world of cave people running from saber-toothed tigers, your brain is still basically the same as theirs. It’s still monkey-mind-ish, and constantly on the lookout for predators. Back in the day, if you relaxed, it meant you would be someone else’s prey, so our brains are wired to be on guard.
So, take a pause and realize you’re okay. You’re breathing. You’re likely indoors or sheltered from bad weather. There’s no four-legged creature stalking you for its next meal. Sure, life isn’t perfect. But in this little moment you are good. Yes, right now, this very instant.
Stay here. Don’t think about the mistakes governments and corporations have made to ruin the environment. Don’t think about the future of the polar ice caps. Think about this moment that you are in. Is your heart beating? Are you breathing? Is your mind working? Quite probably you are okay. Guess what. Most likely you’re going to be just as okay tomorrow, and the next day.
This is how we’ll get through this. Not by putting our heads in the sand, but by taking care of ourselves when we need to.
Final reality check
Ultimately, the world as we know it might not continue. Many different species have lived on this planet and gone extinct through no fault of their own (*cough* dinosaurs). The earth is old, and will very likely live on without human beings trampling all over it and taking its resources. It might not be comforting to think that Earth is strong and doesn’t need us, but for some that thought might spark a moment of zen.
During the safety demonstration on airplanes, we’re reminded to put on our own oxygen mask before assisting another. I hope that these practices, techniques, and ideas can help you regenerate some clarity and strength. Because the human race and planet need you to be strong and keep fighting.