Anyone keeping up with the news these past few years knows what challenging times we live in. While being engaged in the world and our communities is important, current events—as well as those in our personal lives—can take a toll on our physical and mental health when they are upsetting, sad, or traumatic.

So what can we do to care for ourselves at those times?

First, take a step back and give yourself time to process how the event directly affects you. Let yourself experience the emotion that is coming over you. (Say it with me: “It’s okay to feel.”) Sit in it, acknowledge it, and name it. As obvious as this advice may seem, it is not always easy.

I know that when a crisis happens to me, to someone I love, or to a community I am part of, I spring into action. For example, several years ago, my sister was unexpectedly in the hospital with failing organs due to a fast-moving infection. (Thankfully, she is thriving now.) I started setting up meals for my family members who sat with her. I drove my siblings to and from school and activities to try to keep a sense of normalcy. I started a care page to share updates.  While these and other activities may have been helpful at the moment, they did not allow me to acknowledge the worry, fear, and grief that I was feeling. Eventually, it took a toll and I burned myself out.

Today, I try to remember to tell myself, “Feel, acknowledge, name.” And I think about what they say on an airplane: “Please put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping those around you.” (Those flight attendants really are wise.)

If the situation does affect you directly, drawing on your web of support is vital. What University resources can you utilize? What community resources are available? Who can you share your thoughts and feelings with? What might you need at the moment? It’s okay to say “I’m not sure what I need. I just know I need time away from the lab or to go for a walk.” Practice self-compassion. Remember, it is okay to ask for assistance if you are struggling to make an action plan while navigating strong emotions.

If you feel like you don’t have a web of support, be in community with others who may have been impacted by the same crisis, or try reaching out to people you have connected with in the past. You never know who may be affected and be open to listening to you, validating your feelings, and helping you articulate your needs. Expressing yourself helps too! Try journaling, drawing, or other forms of art.

Sadly, there will always be something going on in the world. Building your resilience is a tool we all need to work on. Additionally, it's important to recognize that some communities experience compounded crises and that this is not always an equalized experience. New trauma can trigger old wounds or prevent them from healing in a way that enables us to move forward productively. For instance, it may be an important part of your action plan to disengage from the news and set boundaries to protect yourself, avoid fixating on what is occurring, and focus on what you can control.

If fully disengaging doesn’t feel right for you, another useful strategy is setting a time limit on how long you consume the news or social media. Try the Focus app and do not disturb function on your smartphone. Disable alerts and make sure to take screen breaks. It may be helpful for you to engage directly by fundraising, participating in a march, or volunteering with the impacted community. These actions help us feel connected and help us regain a sense of control over our world.

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that managing through a crisis may be different for international and underrepresented communities. How it looks to express our emotions or create a plan may depend on our identities, and our actions may be influenced by cultural or social forces. Being our authentic selves is a journey, one that can be both long and challenging. (Happily, many long journeys also include lots of moments of joy. For instance, June is Pride Month, a time to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community at GSAS!)

Don’t have the mental space to dig deep now? Save this article and revisit. This is a process. If you feel overwhelmed or stuck, visit the Office of Student Services. We are here to help, even in the summer. Remember to be kind to each other and visit B-2 and B-Well!

B-2 B-Well: During Trying Times, Take Care

Photo by Tony Rinaldo