How Can I Respond In A Healthy Way, When The World Feels Sad and Scary?
About 2 decades ago, when the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami occurred, killing around 230,000 people, I remember feeling totally helpless and frantic. I also felt guilty for not being there, for not being able to help. I remember being in my apartment running around directionless, crying loudly, making a pile of “relief items” to send to that side of the earth.
A few years earlier, 9-11 had occurred, I’d been on my honeymoon, in a cafe in the middle of America. The news came over the radio and I was frozen with fear, believing our lives would change drastically. I remember the same feelings. Powerless and guilty.
Both of these events were world changing. The 2004 earthquake and tsunami was considered one of the deadliest in modern history. The earthquake “caused a shift in the Earth’s mass that changed the planet’s rotation,” said World Vision. The waves that hit were said to have been the equivalent to about 23,000 Hiroshima like atomic bombs. (https://www.worldvision.org/disaster-relief-news-stories/2004-indian-ocean-earthquake-tsunami-facts).
The events of 9-11 killed nearly 3,000 people, burned down the Pentagon and Twin Towers, and resulted in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. https://www.history.com/topics/21st-century/9-11-attacks
“What can we “do”?” and “How should we react?” are valid questions that tend to come up for we who are not being hurt, but are emotionally affected in another state or country.
With the Taliban making serious advances on the people of Afghanistan, these questions may be coming up for you. At this point, however, the issues far away are not the only things occurring within our lives. It feels like never before are there more concerns on Planet Earth than in all of history. Whether that’s true or not, may not feel like the issue—the issue is, we are here now, in a battle with distress.
Today’s current affairs and your personal affairs may beg the same questions as the events of 2001 and 2004: “What can I do? How should I react?”
Here are some ideas:
SELF CARE—yes, it is okay!
I like to use the analogy of the safety guidelines on an airplane. The flight attendant will tell its parental passengers to put on their oxygen masks, before helping their child place theirs. Why? Because if the parent can’t breath, nobody is breathing. In other words, take care of yourself during crisis in the world, then you can be ready to help others too. God never said, “NOW, FREEZE UP IN FEAR AND DON’T DO ANYTHING!” or “START RUNNING AROUND IN CIRCLES AND FREAK OUT!”
Conversely, we see His people in story after story continuing to live and move forward. Consider the Isrealites in captivity in Babylon, God told them to keep building houses, and planting gardens. Consider Joseph’s story, he kept going—he worked diligently, and with dignity wherever he was sent, even when in captivity. He may have been afraid, of course, but he kept going. Your nervous system may want to freeze or run, or you may want to hide and isolate. Here is when depression and anxiety can come up for you. I don’t want to minimize those possiblities, but I also want you to feel you have permission to take care of yourself, even when others are hurting.
God is in control—and we must still be present for our kids and families. If you need extra support emotionally, a big part of self care is getting support or help. Talk to a professional if the world feels too overwhelming, and keep going to see them as often as your concerns necessitate. I would also invite you to candidly speak to Jesus, He can handle your concerns. Also reach out to trusted others to seek counsel and support.
(Jeremiah 29, Genesis 37, Read the Psalms and see how David spoke with God honestly and with much emotion, even sometimes anger and passion).
PRAY, PRAY, PRAY
During his captivity, Daniel prayed three times a day. The Bible also tells us to never cease in prayers and thanksgiving. And it also tells us to stand our ground in prayer AND, when we don’t know what to pray, He will help us, because the Holy Spirit knows anyhow! Prayer can be not only the right thing to do for others, it can also be physically and emotionally healthy for us! We are lifting off the pressures of the world and handing them over to the right Guy-GOD!
(Daniel 6:10-28, 1 Thes. 5:16-18, Eph. 6:13, Romans 8:28)
GO TO ONLY TRUSTED WEBSITES, AND MEDIA THAT WON’T OVERWHELM YOU
Everyone is different. Where my husband can hold a lot of information, I am way too sensitive to hold the same amount or type of information, especially after seeing clients all day. Be careful with yourself, trust your intuition and Christ-like discernment on what your mind and body can handle. Physical and emotional symptoms of stress of varied and far reaching. If you notice signs of stress in your body, you can hold boundaries with media. This is a part of self care—be careful to be careful with your mind, body and spirit. Admit your sensitive and express boundaries with your household members, or co-workers, etc. like—“Can you just explain the highlights of that situation, and leave out the violence or things you know I can’t handle?”, “Can you please shut the TV off?”, “Want to go for a walk instead of watching that YouTube video?”
My favorite way to manage this is to have my husband tell me the news, because he knows me and what I can handle. I also don’t ever watch it alone, and ask for him to watch certain things with me. If your family won’t participate in your care, find ways you can do it for yourself, or find friends and support groups that will. Ask God to protect your mind as you go through receiving distressing news.
LOOK FOR USEFUL, RATIONAL WAYS TO HELP THOSE AFFECTED
When we aren’t the victims of a natural disaster or other trauma, and when we can’t be there physically to help others, we usually want to do something useful. In 2004 me crying and making a pile of relief stuff wasn’t helpful, because I didn’t know what was needed, or even who to send the items to.
Find a useful site like World Vision, the American Red Cross, The Voice of the Martyrs, etc. and find out the best ways to help. Sites like this will usually give you a ton of ideas, they often have packages already ready to send, but need donations. You may also want to check out short term missions trips or opportunities to travel to aid the victims if that is a physical, mental/emotional possibility for you—sometimes God is calling us to more than just sending money, items and prayers, He wants to send His people. Ask your pastor or other leaders at your church if there is a trusted short term missions website, or if they have any good ideas on where to get started, or to pray for you to see if it’s the right thing for you and your family.
DO WHAT YOU CAN, IN YOUR OWN COMMUNITY
I’m seeing a few pastors and friends on social media saying in the midst of issues overseas, we should look at our own lifestyles and attitudes. Maybe you can’t be on site in Afghanistan, but you can help your neighbor move that heavy item. You can pray for your coworker, you can tell your friend about the love of Jesus, etc. Look for things you can do locally to help others. Check out shelterkc.org, or Cityunionmission.org, the Salvation Army, Rachel House Pregnancy Center (resourcehealth.org) for just a few of 1,000’s of ideas.
Hope this helps take the edge off your stress!
Blessings and peace as you discern what is right and best over you, in Jesus name