How to CARE and COPE at the same time?
Mental peace is something that everyone wants. Unfortunately, it seems that we don’t always get it. In times of crisis, we tend to become anxious or depressed. What can we do to achieve mental peace?
Optimism is what I strive for in life. However, I think I end somewhere in the middle between optimism and pessimism. This middle space I call “realism”. Overall, I’m basically fine with being a realist because it keeps me grounded. The problem with being a realist, though, is that there is little space left for making changes to the events in the universe as the realist deals only with the given reality; he can’t deal with any other reality.
Optimists see potential to change things for the better, while the realist simply sees what is.
As I write this my area of the world is concerned with the effects of the coronavirus, rising inflation, supply chain issues, and record-high gas prices. Of course, most of the world’s general attention is focused on Russia and Ukraine. How that conflict will ultimately affect the rest of the world is only an educated guess. Hence our lack of mental peace as we struggle through these times of crisis.
The more I hear and read the news, the stronger is my desire to escape from it all! But there’s nowhere to go! In a previous article, I wrote about how to work on a healthy news consumption strategy, that’s a start for obtaining mental peace. Wanting to escape from these times of crisis is the realist in me talking. My sense of realism has no regard for coping with or changing my current reality, only in fleeing from the crisis so as not to have to deal with it at all.
As I continue to feel the need to flee these times of crisis, the realist in me leans more toward the pessimist as I realize, deep inside of my thoughts, that there is no escape. There is nowhere for me to physically flee, and the more I feel trapped the more anxious and stressed I become. Amidst the barrage of news and opinions, my inner struggle spirals the more I hear of despair, economic worries, and violence in our world.
The optimist in me wants to join the inner thoughts and conversation with my inner-realist. (As I previously said, I do try my best to be an optimist.) But even if the realist allows such a dialogue, what might it sound like? In light of the tensions in the world, what can my inner-optimist say without sounding either naive or like a quote from a greeting card?
How can we be realistic AND optimistic?
The optimist views the world from the mindset that every challenge can be overcome, and believes mental peace and joy always prevail, even in times of crisis. Optimism motivates us to strive to overcome even if we can’t imagine a positive outcome. Deep within our thoughts we know, without a doubt, that without at least trying, a future full of hope will never be realized.
The joint inner dialog of the optimist with the realist must take into account the difficult realities we face while avoiding naive “answers.” What we need is hope fulfilled through practical, effective action.
My inner optimist, in its desire to make a change instead of fleeing, reminds me to turn to my spiritual life. And I suggest the same for you, the reader. It doesn’t matter the nature of your religion, or the lack thereof, but what does make a mental peace shift is the knowledge and belief of something/someone greater than myself. “Religion and belief are now seen by many researchers and clinicians as an important way to cope with trauma and distress thanks to research over the last three decades.” (Source: apa.org)
A Spiritual Viewpoint
That research identified positive and negative forms of religious coping as well as evidence that how people experience and express their faith has implications for their well-being and health. “People who made more use of positive religious coping methods had better outcomes than those who struggled with God, their faith, or other people about sacred matters” (apa.org Dr. Kenneth Pargament, Ph.D., professor emeritus of psychology at Bowling Green State University)
In a compilation book of reflections written for the 9/11 attacks in the USA titled “Franciscan Voices on 9/11”, we find this quote which I use to this day:
“In despair, we give up on our relationship with God. Doubt, on the other hand, is a sign that our faith is alive and kicking; it is part of the rhythm of faith itself. Lament is not a failure of faith, but an act of faith. We cry out directly to God because deep down we know our relationship with God counts; it counts to us and it counts to God. Even if we do not experience the closeness, we believe God does care. Even if God seems not to hear, we believe God is always within shouting distance. In the Scriptures, God does not say, “Do not fear, I will take away all the pain and struggle.” Rather, we hear, “You have no need to fear since I am with you””
7 ways to help face times of crisis in the world as both an optimist AND a realist
1. Remember, you’re not alone.
The daunting task of coping with times of crisis is not ours to struggle with alone. Seek out others who feel the same as you and, instead of complaining or despairing, work together on practical local solutions to the crisis.
2. Know that you are not a victim.
A victim is a person who suffers as a result of events happening to them that they can’t control. You may say that according to that definition we are victims of what’s happening in the world. But, if we change our perspective on how we define “world”, not meaning the entire globe, rather, defining my world as consisting of my local community, we can create reasonable expectations. Creating reasonable expectations allows us to actually do something to affect change locally. For example, it is unreasonable to make our personal goal that of world peace. However, creating a peaceful home, work, or local community is a reasonable personal goal.
3. Empower yourself and others.
Educate yourself about the struggles we’re facing (from multiple sources and points of view) and solutions tried in the past. Learn what worked in the past and what didn’t work. Figure out why it didn’t work and what you can do differently now to make positive change more likely. Seek out and obtain the resources needed to carry out your goal.
Our ability to work with others to find a solution to shared problems removes the label of “victim,” replacing it with “survivor.” Although we need to educate ourselves about the issues, it’s also important to keep a balance, allowing for some news-free periods.
4. Reclaim your power.
Once we realize that we are not powerless, our desire to implement change brings about renewed strength and optimism. Recognize the power and strength that you individually have, and that we as a group have, and find creative ways of using your power for the common good.
Do not let the power itself take over. Even if we feel invincible, in reality, we won’t always make the proper decisions. Learning from our mistakes is a sign of strength, for the knowledge gained from the mistake will help you to avoid that, or similar mistakes, in the future.
5. Focus your effort and your energy.
As I previously mentioned, our power and abilities are limited, so wisely focus your time and energy on those tasks which can be completed, and not on tasks you know are impossible for you to complete. No one person, or one group, can do everything.
6. Show empathy for others.
As we learn about the issues affecting our world, we begin to realize that many of our problems originate with people not understanding each other. We tend to view the world from our own perspective and only validate our own history, failing to recognize that those with whom we may disagree also view their world from their perspective and history.
Finding solutions to problems presupposes that all parties agree on the nature of the problem. Empathy, placing ourselves in the shoes of another, provides us a deeper understanding of the concerns of others. By viewing the world through their perspective, we become better informed and thereby better prepared to find and carry out real solutions. Empathy does not mean agreeing with another’s opinion. It simply means you see their perspective as they view it.
7. Don’t forget self-care.
The realist in me recognizes that to accomplish all of this, I will end up draining and wearing myself out. But in the union of the realist with the optimist, I recognize the need for self-care. Take time for yourself; keep up bonds with your family and friends; find activities or hobbies which do not relate to the work at hand; spend time in meditation and quiet to focus yourself.
Obviously, I do not propose these steps as absolute solutions to the current times of crisis of the world. But I do offer them as guides to keep us grounded in reality and keep us hopeful and passionate enough to experience mental peace make a lasting difference.