Saturday, February 18, 2023

When the end-of-days feelings get you down, choose up

Indri Robyy, Pixabay

Doom-scrolling is real, and I know to try to avoid it for fear of entering that hyper-vigilant, chronically worried state that can set in when your adrenal system gets worked up. But these days it's hard to find a news feed of any kind that doesn't feel like doom-scrolling. 

Historians hasten to put such gloomy thoughts about "these times" in perspective. They rightly note that in fact, many grand woes of the world are actually lessening. We have less poverty. Fewer nuclear warheads. Less global terrorism. We live longer, having invented cures, treatments and vaccines for many things that used to kill us.

All of that is good news at the big-picture level. But it isn't actually of much comfort to those who are alive in this moment and living in this destabilized state, when flu-stricken birds are falling out of the sky and the Earth is splitting open and every season heralds a new round of record-smashing extreme weather somewhere in the world.  

It's hard to appreciate your moment in time in the Big Picture when your Small Picture is scaring the hell out of you. 

Some of us are living in hellish situations of war and natural disaster while others are just stressed from reading about it, and I don't mean to compare the experiences. But I'd venture that all eight billion of us are feeling the heaviness of these times in one way or another. 

We all need to find our own ways of coping. Some people "check out" and simply don't take in the news, a tempting thought if only our collective alarm wasn't urgently needed to drive change. Nothing gets fixed when people check out. 

Others focus on the here and now. There's no earthquake in Victoria right now, is there? There's no balloon waiting to be shot down in our skies. No sabre-rattling super power getting jacked up about Canada. There's just you and the calm seas and the pretty paper whites, on a mild winter day on a coveted West Coast island.

I like "being present" myself, though I did discover on a road trip last year through California's drought-slammed former nut orchards that it also means bearing witness to whatever is playing out in front of you. 

Driving south through lands I once dreamed of living in only to be confronted with the realities of modern-day California - so, so different from my shiny young-person memories of thriving agriculture as far as the eye could seen and a full-to-the-brim Lake Shasta packed with happy house boaters - was an eye-opener that I haven't been able to shake.

Nor will being present lower stress levels when it involves passing through the pockets of poverty and human suffering that have developed in all of our communities. But it couldn't be more important to be present in those moments, because this hand-wringing state we've been in about social decline for pretty much 30 years now will end only when we shake ourselves awake and act. 

Another reaction to these unsettling times is to go all in, spiralling into an increasing state of rage and paranoia over whatever subject a person has ended up fixated on. 

With so much to fixate on, there are many ways to rage these days. I'm sure we all know someone who has fallen into obsession (and whose company we want less and less of as a result). I know a COVID rager, an anti-vax rager, several Trudeau ragers, and even a few pro-Trump ragers who ignited a few years back and can't seem to cool down.

Unfortunately, there's no problem-fixing going on when people are in a state of rage. That's just a time when we want to break things and yell at people. If you're stuck in a rage state, best to get some help with that. It's costing you friends and your personal health, and not changing a damn thing about whatever has you riled.

How does one go about feeling better in gloomy times? Personally, I seek out news stories about things that are making a difference on the issues facing us. A recent read reminding me that the world did successfully address acid rain and the hole in the ozone layer through collective action was heartening, and important to hold onto in times when all the doom threatens to paralyze us. 

Also good: Buy a copy of The Economist every now and again and get caught up on world news  presented with careful balance, research and thoughtfulness. So different than the hyped-up headlines that a Google News search pulls up.

Speaking of news, I highly recommend severely limiting your intake of that which calls itself "news" in these over-saturated times. 

Back in the day when newspapers were still a thing, I read two a day, mostly limited to goings-on in Victoria, BC and Canada. Now, every bit of bad news going on anywhere in the world is as close as a right-hand swipe on my phone. 

It's so easy to do that swipe in a distracted moment, just like I once used to mindlessly light up a cigarette to pass the time in between this and that. But just like those cigarettes, it's so bad for me. I can feel the worry and the outrage building in me almost immediately, even if I was having a perfectly OK time just minutes before. 

Of course, each of us as citizens of the world also need to be stepping up right now. Avoiding the bad news overload is one thing, but taking action where you can must never be avoided. If you've got anyone you care about who is still going to carry on living after you're dead, surely that's motivation enough to do your part right now to actually address problems where you can rather than just worry about them.

Find the news you can use, and use it. May the rest of it roll off you.


Anonymous said...

I have read this posting a few times and am taken with how close the sentiments expressed are to my own. It is satisfying, in a way, but it is also disturbing, as the mental rut one can descend to may be terminal.
I also wonder why this posting has not drawn a single comment in 2 months, as to me, it it bang on.
Thank you, Jody

Jody Paterson said...

Thank you for your thoughts, DJF! As for why it didn't get a comment until you wrote one, that's just how it goes out here in the blog world, based on my experience. I do think posts like this one sometimes just feel like too much of a bummer for people to bother reading.