October 22, 2023

11 Ways to Care for Ourselves when the World is in Pieces.


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Last night, my girlfriends and I met for our monthly women’s group and made some space to talk about what the war between Israel and Hamas has been doing to us.

One thing we noticed was how little is shared on how to deal with the stress we feel as a reaction to the information we’re receiving, so we started gathering our own resources.

Here’s what we came up with. May it be of benefit.

1. Screen time boundaries
Never was there a time in which the news was so readily and visually available as now. If our nervous systems were made to process this vast amount of suffering is a whole question in and of itself. Setting news channel and social media boundaries with ourselves gives us a chance to return to the here and now and helps our bodies realize that, in this moment, we’re safe. It’s okay if you can’t watch the news today. It’s okay if you have to put away your phone. Take a break from the world if you need to.

2. Keep your own mental health in mind
How was your mental health before the recent events unfolded? Are you prone to anxiety or depression? Have you been through a trauma that could now be triggered? Reflecting on these questions can be helpful to understand why the current events may be landing in a certain way for you. Get some help if needed. Book an extra session with your therapist or find one to speak to. You deserve to feel supported.

3. Look within
Being exposed to our inhumane humanity is a hard pill to swallow. Part of the reason why the world is in such shock right now may be that, even though we love to deny it, we see what humans are capable of. If you’re struggling with what you could be capable of under the wrong circumstances, don’t look away. Instead, be curious about where in your life you’re acting from a place of hate or indifference, and reflect on how you can shift that. Change always starts with us.

4. Practice metta
Something that’s kept my head above water these past days is closing my morning yoga practice with a short metta meditation. You may think of anyone you love, feel neutral about, or actively disagree with. Don’t forget to include yourself, too, and send out some loving-kindness. While there are different phrases to use, here’s one shared by Spirit Rock Meditation Center that resonates deeply with me today:

May all beings be free from danger. May all beings be protected and safe. May all beings be free from suffering. May all beings live with ease.

If metta is new to you and you enjoy guided practices, here’s one for you.

5. Embrace the paradox
When I see someone inflict pain and suffering on others, I often try to think of how much they themselves must suffer to be able to act like this. Acknowledging this doesn’t mean that their actions are acceptable. Understanding doesn’t negate accountability. Compassion doesn’t excuse actions. Both things can be true—we can be furious and see them in their pain.

6. Consider the influence of your culture
We always function against the background of the culture and society we grew up and live in. German guilt about the Holocaust is still very much alive and will influence how Germans, like myself, feel about the current situation. In the U.S., where politicians have been using fear to divide for years, society is very much driven by that emotion, which may influence how you react to this crisis. Becoming aware of how our surroundings influence our perception may help us zoom out and take a step back.

7. Be present with your loved ones
Spending time with our children, partner, family, or friends and really being there can help us feel a deep sense of connection. Let it be an antidote to the hopelessness you may feel right now. Reach out to your loved ones and spend time with them. Notice the warmth you feel when you’re with them and the gratitude you have about being able to enjoy their presence.

8. Make space for joy
As bizarre as it sounds, if ever there was a time to make space for joy in your life, it’s now. Remember that while all the suffering we witness can be unbearable, it can also make us feel numb. Take it into your own hands to seek out joy and create some semblance of balance in your life. Make use of the fact that you and your loved ones are safe. Nobody in Israel or Gaza is helped if you feel guilty about being alive and well.

9. Practice mindfulness
As always, when I feel hopeless, I can count on Thich Nhat Hanh’s wise words to bring me some solace:

“The practice of mindfulness, of meditation, consists of coming back to ourselves to restore peace and harmony. The energy that enables us to do this is mindfulness, an energy that also carries with it concentration, understanding, and love. Caring for yourself, reestablishing peace in yourself, is the basic condition for helping someone else. To be able to help, we need to have at least a little calm, a little joy, a little compassion in us. We get these from practicing mindfulness in everyday life. Being there with what is beautiful and healing inside us and around us is something we should do each day.”

10. Stop speaking and start listening
Something scary that this war is showing me, once again, is that people feel the need to speak before they take the time to listen and learn. Needing to react and contribute to one view or another instead of pausing and reflecting is something I fear contributes to the division we so easily see these days.

I’ve been finding it incredibly helpful to speak to my friends in Israel and hear about the first-hand experience of people who are actually experiencing this reality, instead of figuring out what I want to believe from the overwhelming amount of news and misinformation that is circulating. If you have any connections to Israeli or Palestinian people, get in touch. Stop making assumptions, and start asking questions. Listen and start to learn beyond the black and white.

11. Get into your body
Nothing helps flush out the stress hormones in our bodies better than movement. Get into your body to feel a little more safe, grounded, and calm. Practice yoga or qoya, go for a hike or bike ride. Take your dog out for a walk or run. Whatever works for you, help your body process what your mind can’t comprehend.

If there’s anything you’ve been finding helpful and would like to add to this, please consider sharing your experience in the comments.


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