In therapy we often discuss how to manage feelings and navigate emotions during a personal crisis but it is also important to address how to process and navigate emotions during social crises. A social crisis can be anything that dramatically disrupts or interrupts society and its functioning. Many individuals feel stuck in how to effectively manage their emotions during social crises because sometimes we don’t feel close enough to the disruption to have the power to fix it. This powerless feeling may result in other negative emotions or anxieties when navigating day to day life. It is important to remember that as humans we function in a society and we can be mindful of the emotional toll and stress that comes with observing and experiencing social crises. Additionally, the strategies and tools you use to manage personal crises can be molded to also help you manage your emotions during social crises.
An important step in navigating these intense emotions is understanding when it is okay to unplug and disconnect from media. Many individuals feel conflicted on when they are ‘allowed’ to disconnect from social media or media in general. It is understandable that we, as members in society, have a responsibility to stay informed and educate ourselves during times of crisis. This responsibility does not mean that you have to check the news after every update or alert. It also does not mean you have to read or consume every opinion that the internet has to offer. Consuming mass amounts of information from any form of media can be overwhelming and confusing at any time, but especially when there is a social crisis. Reading, listening, or watching any form of tragedy will evoke an emotional response. It takes a lot of mental energy to be able to process and understand what you are consuming, then it takes even more energy to navigate those emotions evoked. If you are constantly spending that mental and emotional energy consuming media about the current social crisis, you may be too exhausted to navigate other aspects of your personal life. It is important to stay informed but it is also important to set limits on what type of media you consume and the amount of time in your day that you allocate to said media. Setting limits allows you to recharge and save your emotional energy for your own personal functioning.
While ‘unplugging’ from media is important it is not always possible for safety reasons. At the time of this blog post, major cities are on alert due to the threat of violence. School’s in the surrounding areas notified parents of their awareness of the threat and what safety precautions they are taking. Part of staying safe is staying alert to your surroundings, most people use the tools on their phone to stay alert and communicate as needed. It would be unfair to expect parents to simply turn off their phone after sending their children to school today, and many people work on computers that provide automatic news updates. If we can’t unplug for now how do we navigate these difficult emotions during social crisis? First we need to identify which emotion is being triggered. A tool I love to use is what we call a ‘feelings wheel.’ I love this tool because it is easy to navigate and can help one find a more specific and accurate word to describe how they feel. For example if you are feeling sad it may feel like the only way to feel better is to feel happy. Instead if you use the wheel and identify that you are actually feeling powerless (which is under the sad category), you can utilize tools that make you feel empowered and in control.
During crisis there is definitely a need for some extra self care. I think many individuals shy away from the idea of self-care as the term is somewhat vague and everyone does ‘self-care’ differently. In the simplest terms, self-care is just what you can do to make sure your physical, emotional, and mental needs are met. This can be as simple as making sure you are eating enough throughout the day and staying hydrated. It can also mean doing something you really enjoy but don’t often get to do like going to the movies a or nd getting one of those ridiculously large buckets of popcorn. The reason every therapist and mental health professional will emphasize self-care is because life can be so hectic and if you don’t intentionally prioritize taking care of yourself, you may drain your mental and emotional battery before you have the ability to recharge. When there is a social crisis you may have even less time to pause and assess your needs, this is why it’s important to be intentional about making time to pause and prioritize yourself.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by recent events or any social crisis, something to remember is that all crises are temporary. If you feel like you could use some extra support, therapy may be a great option to help process intense emotions and develop new coping skills.
Madison Repak, LPC