It’s an overwhelming time to be alive. Omicron runs rampant. Inflation is up 8%. Housing and healthcare keep going up all over the country. Our government seems either inept or corrupt. And the climate keeps warming higher and higher as we futilely do too little to stop it. Most of my patients are struggling. I realize that my patients aren’t the perfect sample of what is going on in the zeitgeist. But I’ve gotten the overwhelming sense that people are suffering a lot right now. There is lots of despair and depression in the air. I write this because I’ve been feeling it too. My work as much as I love it can be exhausting. Many personal issues are exhausting me right now too. And the climate is always at the forefront of my mind.
So how does one cope with despair? Short term– Maybe a bottle of wine and a joint. I kid, but I don’t really. Nothing takes the edge off as easily. But as I write this, I’m thinking about all the ways I try to cope with my current feelings. I don’t think any of these are a panacea. But they are a laundry list of habits that help me get through the hard times so I can be ready for the joys when they return.
I am writing this now, mostly for myself, as an outlet for my feelings. I realize as I write this that making what I feel verbal helps. To paraphrase Carl Jung until we make the unconscious conscious we will be directed by it and call it fate. The act of writing is the act of taking what is below the surface and giving it a voice so it will not consume me. I think that is what is useful about journaling. My journal just happens to be public. But writing is something anyone can do who 10 minutes to spare.
I suppose one can say this about any form of exercise, but there is something about running in particular that really lifts my mood. The mental health effects of exercise have been long documented, especially about the release of endorphins. And running certainly helps my feelings of despair. But running also feels like a vacation for me. I don’t treat is a productivity tool, personally. I prefer long runs at least 4 miles. I don’t try to run fast or beat times. I like to really try to be in the moment with my body and look around. Sometimes I listen to music, but often I don’t either. The sensation of being in my body is healing. The sensation of just looking around makes me grounded in my temporal, human life.
I know I’ve talked a lot about how meditation has been helpful for me, and I think helpful for mental health. But self-compassion meditations I think are particularly useful for despair. It forces me to love my pain and bring gentleness to it, instead of avoiding it. It often leaves me in tears while I’m doing it, but I feel so refreshed afterward like coming out a long bath.
Reading or Joyful Distraction
We all need distractions from ourselves whether it’s TV, movies, social or video games. My favorite pastime as I’ve gotten older is reading. I prefer it to almost every activity, especially ones involving our phones. It feels less like a way to waste time, and more like a way to enrich myself. I try to read at least one book a week now that I”m older, and I try to vary the topics. I read lots of fiction, but also lots of history and psychology books. But I’m open to anything that will help me learn.
A Supportive Partner, Friend or Therapist
I’m lucky enough to have a supportive and loving partner, and it makes a huge difference. If I’m feeling blue, she will listen and give me a hug. She almost always makes time for me in that way. I am incredibly lucky to have her. If you don’t have a supportive partner, I hope there is at least one person you all can turn to. Life is hard enough, and we all need all the loving support we can get to pass through it. If you don’t feel like you have that influence in your life, I encourage you to find a professional that can help. With the advent of online therapy, it is probably easier than ever to find one.