Authors note: I started writing this article before the 4th of July. I connected with experts to provide the most up-to-date resources for anyone moving through trauma or emotionally challenging times (and seeking meditation practices to help them navigate in the moment). During my writing process I collected information, worked to supply transformational tools, and took off time to be with my family during the 4th of July weekend. We did our typical family tradition which was attend the Highland Park 4th of July parade.
In the beginning I wrote this article because I am an expert in my field. Today, I finish this piece because I am also a survivor of one of the most horrific mass shootings that has occurred in recent years. It is healing for me to share it and I pray it supports you wherever you are on your healing journey. Supporting you heals me.
The day ends and you find yourself laying in bed, you’re freshly showered and about to enjoy some moments decompressing from the day — or at least, try to enjoy. The news is upsetting (or perhaps even devastating), work is stressful, and you still haven’t received a text back from one of your girlfriends, which allows you to play out a scenario that perhaps she actually is mad at you. You begin to spiral. The intensity of the world presses on your chest, and tasks — which are as simple as getting your laundry done or checking in with your mom — don’t seem as doable when feeling distraught over current events.
There are a few different routes these feeling states can lead to. You may pick up your phone and scroll through social media, allowing yourself to be fully consumed by the traumas of the world (whether intentionally or not), or you can try to cope in a route that may actually feel good, aligned, and support relaxation of your nervous system. All are coping strategies, however a route rooted in self-care will support your emotional wellbeing and leave you feeling more relaxed and present.
As a mindfulness expert and spiritual teacher with my Masters in Clinical Psychology, my Instagram DM’s are always filled with people asking me how to feel better when the world around them feels chaotic, or even worse, deeply traumatizing. We all react to upsetting news in different ways. I’ve identified four main feeling states I’ve noticed people experience when responding to the obstacles of the world — depressed, anxious, stressed, or even under-stimulated by their everyday activities. I connected with industry experts in the self-care and mindfulness space to guide you in diverse routes to recover, cope, and reset when the world around you feels turbulent. May this serve you.
For Feelings Of Depression
To shift back into a calming headspace, take a pause and practice self-awareness. Sarah Persitz, trauma informed spiritual coach, breathwork facilitator, and reiki healer, recommends finding acts of beauty all around you. “To work with this practice, for one week, commit yourself to identifying five to seven acts of beauty that either inspire a sense of gratitude or hope. Write them down, taking time at the end of each day to reflect on what you observed that day,” she instructs. You might be inspired by what you see in nature, and the natural rhythm of the world around you which gives you hope for the future of our planet. Or perhaps, like me, you begin to observe human kindness in the smallest of interactions that can fundamentally shift the course of your day.” Persitz says when she herself implemented this practice into her own life, she started seeing more random acts of kindness all around her.
Let’s be honest, sometimes we need to laugh to keep us from crying. Elizabeth Su, writer, creator, and perfectionism expert (aka the guru you go to when you want to overcome perfectionism), with a Masters in Clinical Psychology, suggests connecting to laughter. “Instead of scrolling through Insta or reading depressing news until you are convinced the world is officially coming to an end, put on some stand-up comedy or watch a show that makes you laugh, or search for videos of pandas rolling down hills,” she recommends. “Laughter really is a wonderful medicine.”
For those list lovers out there, this is the meditative practice for you. Kimberly Ariella Dueñas, yoga and wellbeing guide recommends a go-to wellness-based list. “Make a list of up to 10 things that do not involve reading, watching the news, or social media … the things that bring you joy, ease, comfort, that can give you a mini-retreat from it all,” she says. “This list can have things like a bath, a neighborhood walk, trying a new recipe, dancing in your fave outfit (in the comfort of your room), a good cry or scream, writing a gratitude list, turning to ancient wisdom, rearranging your room, or treating yourself with your favorite dessert!”
When you feel sad you default to the easiest practices or habits that already occur in your life as if you are moving on auto-pilot. This is why it is so important to have a dedicated morning routine, no matter what, because even when you wake up with a heavy heart it will feel manageable to maintain the routine. James Clear suggests the practice of “habit stacking” in his book Atomic Habits. Habit stacking is when you have an already obvious habit, like brushing your teeth, and you stack on top something that is good for your headspace on top of it. Pick a habit you do on auto-pilot in the morning, like using the toilet or making coffee to stack on top a positive habit that will support a more peaceful headspace. Maybe you can play a meditation on your phone while making coffee, practice deep breathing while making your bed, or dance to a song while feeding your pets. Keep a beginner’s mind, start small, and allow yourself to default to these new manageable habits.
For Feelings Of Anxiousness
Taylor Swift had the right vibe with her song “Shake It Off.” Because Persitz’s recommends a movement practice rooted in shaking: “Our bodies hold the energy of our thoughts, feelings, and emotions,” she explains. “Shaking is a way to discharge the accumulation of energy that gets stuck in our body, releasing feelings of anger, anxiety, and residual trauma. It’s actually a very primal response, deeply embedded within our body’s consciousness, so all you need to do is stand with your feet hips-width apart and begin to move your body. You can begin by swaying side to side, gently bouncing up and down, and intuitively follow your body’s wisdom as it will guide you in moving through the areas of your body where energy may be stuck. Shaking for five to 10 minutes can make a dramatic difference. Feel free to add some music for inspiration.” This is also a quick practice to implement throughout the day.
Release control. This is a big one. When the feeling-state of overwhelm is present, focus on this mindset shift that can calm your day. Dueñas shares, “practice separating yourself from what you can and cannot control.” You cannot control the weather, however you can control how much water you’re drinking, how many steps you’re getting, and how often you talk to a loved one.
Michelle Pepper, nomadic spiritual mentor, inner-child healer, and meditation developer certified in Advanced Spiritual Psychology offers a practice that helps you tune into your body. “Our bodies are so intelligent and are always speaking to us, yet in this fast-paced world, we tend to not pay attention,” she explains. “Next time you are in an anxious state, tune into the body. Ask yourself, Where do you feel this in the body? Give this anxiety a name, then speak to this anxiety with love and compassion with phrases like “I see you” and “I hear you.” Breathe slowly into this area and allow self-compassion to spread within.
A practice that works for my own clients and myself is pairing a mantra, or positive affirmation, while also holding myself. For example, I will place my right hand on my forehead and my left hand on my chest. This posture or mudra, helps relax the nervous system as you physically hold yourself. Pair this with the positive words of “I am safe,” on repeat until you feel your body release. You may also want to shake your legs here to stay firmly grounded at the same time. When you use “I am” statements this is a route to retrain the subconscious mind. Be cautious of your words as they are powerful. If the “I am safe” message resonates, feel free to make a list of five to 10 “I am” statements that you can also use in this specific anxiety-releasing practice.
For Feelings Of Under-Stimulation
Su shares that experiencing under-stimulation is as disruptive to the nervous system as being over-stimulated. “I think right now we’re all experiencing a phenomenon where what used to bring us joy doesn’t anymore and we need to adjust,” she explains. “Under-stimulation is connected to boredom and isolation, so my recommendation is to throw yourself into something new. Take a cooking class, teach yourself how to DJ, start a garden, read a YA book if you’re used to reading self-help, or simply change up your morning walk so you’re seeing something different. The key is that whatever you choose to pursue, it has to feel fun and not tied to achieving any sort of outcome.”
The opposite of under-stimulation is not stimulation, it is nourishment. You can be stimulated or even wired, and it can still leave you disconnected. Nourishment means you’re connected to the present moment, enjoying the activity you’re immersed in and leave the experience feeling full. I like to tell my clients to look to the past and see where in their lives they have felt the feeling state of deep nourishment. Were you in nature? Traveling? Who was there with you or were you alone? When I start asking these questions they become more clear on what is needed now in the present moment. For example, my most nourished feeling state is when I am sitting in a coffee shop, in a new town, with a good book. In the thick of the pandemic I would explore local neighborhoods in Chicago to connect to this feeling state of nourishment by planning it in my schedule. Use the past as a reference for what can nourish you in the present. Or ask yourself the question, what do I need most right now? Take that answer to heart and implement it right away.
For Feelings Of Stress
Stress can feel like looking through life with a “dirty filter” or lens, where one zooms in on all the things going wrong in their lives. Pepper offers this practice, “To clear your lens of perception and shift your mindset is to write down a list of everything that is stressing you out, rip it up, and burn it to release the stress,” she says. “Then, take out a new, clean loose leaf piece of paper, come into the present moment, and ask yourself What is true right now? What do I have to be grateful for now? We must create space for the stress to come up and then actively shift through mindset work, gratitude, and presence.”
When thinking about the whole world, it can feel overwhelming and stressful. A practice that is healing me in the present moment is reminding myself that I cannot save the whole world right now, but I can make my home a healthy and safe space for my family. I also remind myself, in the midst of my own healing journey, that all I need to do is climb one step. Not the whole staircase. And that one step is going to bring me closer to a less stressed person, a better version of myself. I also focus on basic needs. Making sure that I am properly hydrated, sleeping eight hours a night, eating a ton of leafy greens and high quality protein, and connecting with my loved ones.
An active practice that will support the release of stress from the body is a powerful active meditation in the lineage of Himalayan Kriya yoga. While standing and gently shaking your legs, use the pads of your hands to tap on your collar bones in a moderately quick pace. Pair this tapping with an open mouth exhale Kali breath. This is when you inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth and stick out your tongue making a sigh sound. Keep this practice for about 60 to 90 seconds and then slap your thighs at the end to reground. This Kriya practice heals the inner child and provides fresh oxygen to the body. Allow this to also relieve your feelings of stress. Practice this daily until you feel more loose in your chest and stomach. When we are reacting with flight, fright, or freeze we are working to protect our inner child. This practice will support the inner child in feeling safe and secure.
Remember that you can move as fast or as slow as you desire. If you need space, take it. If you need help, ask for it. If you need more work to do to be distracted, I get it. Be gentle, cope in a way that feels aligned to you. I pray that one of the above practices resonate and that you can implement them seamlessly into your everyday life.
We are living in a time when there is unfortunately so much darkness. We each have free will. This free will allows us to make decisions every single day. At the end of the day, you have you. And you must do what is needed to make yourself feel calm and safe. We have to actively choose to move towards the light. To be the light. May these practices guide you there.
If you are having suicidal thoughts please look here for resources here and here. To find a therapist near you, look for matches with the right coach and specialist for your needs.