Gather 'round, my friends. We need to have a serious talk.
All the moping, the flailing about on social media, the sharing of conspiracy theories, the signing of online petitions, the announcing of outrage in ALL CAPS, all of that simply isn't working. It's not working for you, and it's not working for me, either.
You know who you are. You are my dear, dear friends who are canceling real-life plans in favor of retreating into the Twitterverse because you are too overwhelmed by the bizarre alternative reality that seems to be unfolding before our very eyes. You're spending your days in bed or on the couch and your nights awake, worrying, fuming, drinking too much boxed wine.
I draw the line at boxed wine, my friends. This has to stop.
I feel your pain. To borrow a certain phrase from a certain someone who usually uses it to precede a whopper: Believe me. I, too, have been dismayed by the vitriol and hateful actions (on both sides of the political aisle) that has poisoned our country's consciousness for the past decade or so. And I must confess to having also felt overwhelmed and a little depressed at times.
But here's the thing: If those of us with the moral compass to recognize what is going wrong in America allow ourselves to be debilitated by the negative emotions of grief, fear, and outrage, we're not going to be able to do anything to correct our own course.
With that in mind, here are five non-partisan, concrete steps you can take to keep yourself healthy, sane, and ready to do the good work.
1. Make a positive action plan
You may feel that your values and concerns are being threatened, and you may want to rage and howl in protest. Doing so might feel liberating in the short term, but the biochemical changes those emotions generate in your body are not physically sustainable. These reactions evolved as the short-term "fight" response to immediate physical threat; they were not meant to last for months on end.
Why not turn the negative paradigm on its head, and outline a few positive steps you can take — right here, right now — to support the ideals that matter to you most?
My friend Charlotte, for example, is planning a benefit for a nonprofit that supports her core beliefs, and hopes to volunteer for a congressional race she believes has the power to affect state and local policy.
Another friend, Stacy, is an award-winning teacher. Stacy has decided her efforts are best extended in the classroom, serving her students. She also uses some of her free time to call lawmakers who influence education and share her wealth of experience and information.
Attend a rally or a march, if that will uplift and empower you. If you are introverted and crowds just aren't your thing, stay home and knit a warm hat for someone who needs one. We're all different, and we can all make a difference in our own way.
2. Keep it real
Consider the scope of your life: your family, your work, the various commitments that come with being a contributing member of the human race.
You probably don't have the resources to save the world all by yourself. But that's okay. You don't have to. (Bill and Melinda Gates seem to have that covered.) Small, incremental actions, such as the ones you incorporate into your personal positive action plan, can aggregate into something much larger, with great potential to better the human condition.
3. Engage with others, positively
Political communications have always been misleading and deliberately provocative toward the so-called "Other." Why? Because those strategies work. From the pamphlets denouncing hapless Marie Antoinette of France to televised reports about the "Red Menace" of Soviet-era Communism, individuals and institutions have often been thrown under the bus in the interest of opposing political agendas.
But here's the problem that we're facing now: The frenetic, 24/7 nature of the news cycle has caused this strategy to backfire. Unrelenting anger and hostility shut the doors of reasonable discourse between humans with differing opinions. And guess what? There will always be those who disagree with you. That's why it's so important to cultivate and seek comity, so we can build community.
People are being swept up in a tide of alienation and hatred that simply isn't real. Homo Sapiens won the genetic lottery on Earth because we had the capacity to interact and cooperate with others.
Let's not blow this opportunity. Reach out to someone who doesn't share your point of view. Listen carefully. You may have much more in common than you think, and that means you can come up with constructive solutions.
4. Take care of yourself
Stressful times take an emotional and physical toll, so remember to pay some attention to your own wellbeing. Eat right. Get enough sleep. Get outdoors. Get moving. If you need to, find a good therapist with whom you can openly address your concerns.
If you feel you have something to fight for, you owe it to yourself to get in fighting shape.
5. Turn it off
Give yourself a break. Media — including social media — are having a heyday capitalizing on our breathless fears and frank fascination with the cast of characters in the political world. Sure, we need to stay informed, and absolutely, we owe it to ourselves to remain engaged citizens.
However, it may not be in your best interests to stay eternally glued to the news and your computer and each and every one of your activist friends every minute of the day. Take this piece of advice from author, lecturer, and mindfulness expert David Mochel:
Take two minutes of silence today to get out of your head — away from ideas and arguments — to connect with your feet on the ground, your breath, your heart, our humanity. We can reach out and make the world a better place for someone for a moment. We can stand for what we believe with both kindness and courage. This is a choice.
So choose it. Be well; be happy; be strong. Lay off the boxed wine.
You've got this.