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How to Cope with Negativity When Disasters Happen

How to Cope with Negativity When Disasters Happen

This world can be a scary place. Just turn on the news and you can hear about hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, mass shootings, acts of terror, and more happening in our world every day. The horrible things happening in the world and the sheer number of people dying because of disasters can be overwhelming.

Anything Bad Happens, You Instantly Know

We live in a world where we hear about these devastations on a minute by minute basis. No delay in the information and sad stories reaching us because the internet has made news come into our homes the minute it happens. A hundred years ago it would have taken a lot longer to get the information about disasters around the world. People were dependent on newspapers as their main source of news. There was no internet a hundred years ago. There also weren’t televisions. We need to be cognisant of the information that is going into our homes and minds, as it affects our emotional and mental well being.

Since we can hear about all the horrible things going on around the word the instant they happen, we can be emotionally affected by what we see and hear. We can become sad or even depressed because of over exposure to the negative things happening in our world. You may find yourself overly focusing on thing happening around the world in comparison to your own life or family. You may become to feel overwhelmed, helpless, and so distracted that it affects your ability to function in one or more areas of our own life.

Stop Letting Negativity Overwhelm You

We need to learn how to cope with this negative information that constantly inundates us. We may not feel that we are internalizing the negative stories and facts, but it is human nature to relate to others. When we hear about tragedies, it is hard for us not to react emotionally and internalize the events, even when we are not directly affected by the tragedy or disaster. Therefore, learning how to cope in a world full of tragedy is something everyone needs. Let’s look into the practical tips for coping with the negativity.

1. Limit Your Exposure to Negative Media

Some of the most pessimistic and negative people I have ever encountered were individuals who watched news stations for hour on end every day. They each seemed to have an obsession with the happenings in the world, especially the negative activities. The conversations often revolved around the depressing and deplorable events that had happened the day before and were reported on the news. They were so pre-occupied with the news that it was affecting their own life and well being. It definitely skewed their perspective of the world too as they viewed everything through the lens that all in the world was doom and gloom.

What we put into our mind has a powerful effect on our mental, emotional, and spiritual well being. Keep the negativity to a minimum. If you are exposing yourself to negative media sources for hours each day, then you are likely to begin feeling negative. We become a reflection of what we expose ourselves to over time. If that source is constant negativity then you too will inevitably become negative. It is simply how the human mind and our emotions work.

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    It is good to be informed about world events and what is happening around the globe. However, it is another level to dwell on these events. If you find yourself constantly thinking about all the terrible things happening in the world, then you may have to limit your intake of negative news, whatever that source may be. What we put into our mind is not easily forgotten, therefore be conscientious of what you are allowing to go into your mind. Graphic images and stories especially affect us, as they take the story to another level. These can have a devastating effect on our well being if we are continually bombarded by graphic messages. You are the gate keeper of what goes into your mind. Know that what goes into your mind naturally affects your heart and spirit. It is the way the human body works. We can’t avoid the way we work naturally, but we can avoid content that may be damaging to our heart, mind, and spirit.

    2. Keep Up With Normal Activities

    Disasters are inevitable in this world. There will never be complete world peace or a world without natural disasters. We need to learn to cope with news of the horrific things going on in the world and still function. When you are feeling that what is going on in the world is affecting your emotional well being or psyche, it is time to make sure you are still keeping up with your life. Don’t stop with your normal activities because there is a disaster striking on the other side of the country and there isn’t anything you can do about it other than donate. Donate and then move on with your life. If you can volunteer that is even better, but that it not always possible. If all you can do is sit and stew about the situation, then stop stewing, get up, and resume your normal activities.

    When a hurricane recently hit South Florida I had family that stayed during the disaster. I watched the news too much, I stewed, I worried, and I texted far too often. I let their situation consume my life because I had no control over what was going on, even though they assured me they were all in hurricane safe locations. After a day or two of this behavior I realized that I needed to get off the couch, do some laundry, take the kids to the playground, make a decent meal, and generally continue on with normal activities. I knew I would be updated by family members when possible, but the angst was so much worse when I was glued to the TV and avoiding my normal activities.

    Don’t do what I did. Keep doing your normal activities. You are of no help to anyone by worrying. It does not fix anything or help anyone. Donating or volunteering can help, but if you can’t do those things then keep up with the world around you in your everyday life. Soon enough disaster may hit your life directly and you will be wistful for those normal, mundane activities.

    Embrace your life, and not the sorrows of others. Your turn may eventually come. Until then, help where you can and keep the spirits up for those around you, as there is so much negativity in this world to overcome. Be the voice of all things positive and joyful in this world. You will find that being positive will help others become positive as well. It becomes contagious, just as negative attitudes spread like a contagion.

    3. Acknowledge the Loss Others are Experiencing

    Reach out and call or text a family or friend who was affected by tragedy. For example, if you know someone living in California and they are in the path of the current fires that are sweeping that state, then reach out to them to see if they are ok. Let them know you are concerned for them and hope (or pray) that all is ok with them and their home. Make contact with those you know who are affected to let them know you care. You will find that your expression of care toward others is cathartic for your own emotional well being.

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      Social media can be helpful in showing you care and allowing you to express yourself. You can show your care and compassion for others by posting an empathetic message for survivors and victims of a current tragedy or disaster. You will also be able to find others who relate to your feelings on social media, as friends may comment on your posting.

      4. Get Exercise, Fresh Air, and Sunshine

      The benefits of a moderate amount of daily sunshine have been proven by science to reduce the risk of major health issues like many types of cancer. Sunshine also reduces anxiety, depression, and increases the production of serotonin (the good stuff in our brain that makes us happy). HealthLine wrote about these benefits and state the following:[1]

      Sunlight and darkness trigger the release of hormones in your brain. Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. This is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused.

      When dealing with stress from worldwide disaster and calamity, sunshine can help to boost your mood naturally. Get outside each day for 15-20 minutes to try to get a natural boost in your mood and immunity, as HealthLine cited that sunshine can also help boost your immune system.

      Exercise naturally boosts our endorphins. These help us feel good. If you are outside exericizing that is a win-win! The Mayo Clinic stated the following about exercise and stress:[2]

      Exercise in almost any form can act as a stress reliever. Being active can boost your feel-good endorphins and distract you from daily worries.

      Get outside, get active, and you will find yourself distracted from your worries and your mood boosted naturally at the same time.

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      5. Talk it Out

      If you are having feelings of sadness, anxiety, or depression because of what is happening in the world, then you should talk to someone. Sometimes just having a friend to talk it out is helpful enough. Don’t keep it bottled up because that is never beneficial. Share your thoughts and feelings with someone who cares about you, as they will be more willing to take the time to listen.

      If you find that you are still feeling heavy or intense emotions then you should contact a professional. They can help you work through your emotions and help you find ways to cope with what is happening in the world. You can find a therapist or counselor near you by going to this website and entering your zip code: Psychology Today Therapist Search Tool.

      6. Volunteer, Donate, or Educate Others

      Sometimes opportunity presents itself to go and volunteer when a tragedy has happened. I had a friend on vacation in Las Vegas when the tragedy recently struck that city. Rather that sit in her hotel room, watch the news, and feel depressed about the horrible situation, she sprung into action. She went and delivered food and water to rescue workers who had been working around the clock. It may be a small way to help, but it mattered to those rescue workers who got the food and water from her because they likely were exhausted, hungry, and thirsty. Help, big and small, is good and useful when a tragedy strikes. However, not everyone has the time or opportunity to volunteer to help when disasters happen. We can always donate though.

      When you feel moved by a particular travesty in the world a great way to help is by donating money. Finding a good organization is easier than you think. The website Charity Navigator is great resource for locating a place to donate. This website provides ratings for non-profits, based on each organization’s 990 form with the IRS. This provides legitimate data by which Charity Navigator is able to analyze the percentage of money that goes toward actually helping versus administrative costs and fundraising efforts. They have nearly 9,000 organizations listed on the site and you can donate directly to an organization via their website.

      If you are looking to donate directly toward a specific cause, such as helping those affected by the hurricane in Puerto Rico, you go to “Hot Topics” on the home page of Charity Navigator and then click on Relief for Puerto Rico and Areas Impacted by Hurricane Maria under “Hot Topics”. You will then find a list of the organizations helping with this disaster relief along with their rating (more stars the better). This is a wonderful way to help a cause directly. You can also donate to your charity of choice on Charity Navigator via their “giving basket”. Below are the links from their website for the top 5 “Hot Topics”. When you click on a link you will find listings for a myriad of charities you can donate to in order to help with the cause:

      When we are affected emotionally by a disaster, we can often feel helpless or useless to assist in relief efforts. We may not have the ability to go to volunteer physically in person. However, donating provides a way for us to help even if we can’t physically be there to volunteer. Science Daily tells us that we feel better when we donate to a cause we care about.[3] Their research showed that when we can directly donate to someone (rather than an organization) we feel even better. It is because we know who are money is helping specifically. It personalizes our helping efforts. Therefore, if you have the opportunity to help someone directly that is even better!

      7. Do a Reality Check

      Does the event truly affect you personally? If something that is happening 1000 miles away does not have a direct affect on you, any of your friend or family, then you probably need to take a reality check. There is so much bad stuff that happens in the world, if we focus on all the tragedies and disasters it is easy to get sad and even depressed. If you continually put your focus back on tragedies that happens elsewhere you take away from the joy in your own life. It also takes you away from your life activities.

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      In order to remain present in our own reality, sometimes we can need to minimize our thoughts pertaining to bad things that are happening elsewhere. It is not that you are putting your head in the sand, but rather filtering the message of what is happening elsewhere through your own reality. You can ask yourself the following questions to help get yourself back to your own reality:

      • Does the event happening affect me personally?
      • Does the event affect anyone close to me?
      • Is there anything that I can do to help those affected? How? What action will I take?
      • Is my focus on this event taking me away from my own family or life activities?
      • How can I minimize my exposure to news/media about the event so I can regain focus on the things I need to do in life?
      • Am I doing anything to help myself refocus on present life?
      • Am I doing something to boost my mood or attitude naturally (if you are feeling especially down about a disaster or situation happening in the world).
      • Am I focusing on the positive or the negative in the world?

      8. Look for the Positive Around You

      The world will always have terrible things happening. There is no such thing as a perfect world or perfect people, therefore natural and human disasters will continue. However, there is goodness in this world. There are good people and there are good things happening if you look for them. When you recognize the goodness and positive in the world, don’t ignore these things. Highlight the positive and acknowledge its existence. You will find yourself with a happier and more joyful spirit when you focus on the positive.

      Even Negative Circumstances Can Have Positive in Them

      When earthquakes happen people often die. This is a sad reality. However, you can also read about stories of heroism and people helping other people. Stories of people saving the lives of others following an earthquake. These stories of bravery and love toward fellow humans are what need to be lifted up and celebrated.

      Don’t celebrate the negativity. Instead find the glimmer of hope, heroism, or human decency in any situation and you will find yourself better coping with the reality of the bad things that do happen in today’s world.

      Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pixabay.com

      Reference

      More by this author

      Dr. Magdalena Battles

      A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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      Last Updated on August 12, 2019

      Why Am I Not Happy? 5 Steps to Figure Out the Reason

      Why Am I Not Happy? 5 Steps to Figure Out the Reason

      In our diverse world, where everyone wants to stand out from the crowd and has their own opinions just about everything, there is a rather universal idea we all – regardless of age, race, location, gender — embrace…

      We all want to be happy.

      We want to feel that we matter, are loved, appreciated, problem-free, care-free, and financially secure. And this has become one of the most obsessive quests of our society—to be happy, at all cost, by all means.

      Happiness has undisputed benefits—supported by countless studies—to about pretty much everything in our lives—from our mental or physical state, to careers, relationships, finances.

      Although the self-help industry is still having a sunshine moment with its advice on how to get to this coveted state, no one (that I’m aware of) has come up with The Magic Potion—that one thing or action or thought—that can make us all content and whole for good.

      Of course, we also all are knowledgeable enough to recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. And that it’s often a combination of things that each one of us should intentionally do daily in order to reach that enchanted place where everything is intensely bright and upbeat.

      The reason that there are multiple antidotes to feeling gloomy is that there may be a million different explanations and their nuances of why someone is unhappy. It’s pretty much a different cause, path and experience for everyone.

      Top this with the “hedonic treadmill” phenomenon[1] —and you end up with an incessant (and rather tiring) pursuit of something that, quite frankly, no one has been able to define in concreate measurable terms.

      The second problem with happiness is that all of us become so hung up on the goal itself—that utopian state that we want to get to “one day.”

      Naturally, you can spend your whole life waiting for happiness to finally come knocking on your door, hoping, anticipating, existing in perpetual discontent—and the moment may never come.

      And then, looking back, you may ask yourself—was I truly that miserable or did I fall a victim of the happiness craze?

      That is—how can you know if you are really unhappy, if happiness means different things for everyone, it’s impossible to measure directly, and it’s rather fleeting?

      So, let’s start from the beginning— and examine the cause of why you’re unhappy, the symptoms and the treatment.

      Symptoms of Unhappiness

      According to the wellness site Mind Body Green, some of the most common manifestations you are not happy are:[2]

      • Feeling like you’re not as good as other people
      • Feeling like a victim of circumstances that are beyond your control
      • Feeling like your daily life is meaningless and task-driven
      • Feeling helpless, hopeless, or pessimistic
      • Protecting your heart with steel walls
      • Trying to fit in and belong, but rarely feel like you do
      • Feeling beaten down by the challenges you face in life
      • Feeling depressed, anxious, or chronically worried
      • Feeling like you’re not appreciated enough

      If this sounds like you, on a regular day, then you are not a happy fella, my friend.

      Reasons for Feeling Unhappy

      The most important indication that things are not great (at least in your mind) is the sense of “something missing.” You may not know what it is, but you feel hollow, incomplete. And you are aware that something needs to happen to make you come alive again.

      Of course, finding the reason for your woes is vital to prescribing (to yourself) the right steps to make it all better.

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      So, here are some of the most common reasons why you may feel heavy-hearted, or “like the joy has been sucked out of my life.”

      Lack of Meaning

      Everyone who’s someone in the happiness-advice trade will tell you that this is one of the main causes (of not THE biggest) of feeling blah. Especially relevant for our professional lives, lack of significance can be a dream-downer.

      An excellent piece in the New York Times talks about Harvard graduates who make $1.2 million a year in salary, but still feeling miserable and trapped in what they describe as “wasting my life” existence.[3]

      Simply put—you may feel unhappy because you need the “Why” in your life, as I also wrote in a previous post How to Get Unstuck in Life and Live a More Fulfilling Life.

      Happiness Disruptors

      Even perceived problems can feel quite real to many of us. Undeniably, though, any personal, financial, career, physical complications can make your happiness aspirations plummet.

      The constellation of all the issues or walls you can run into can be quite vast. For instance, you don’t like the way you look, you don’t make enough money, don’t have any friends or significant other, your health is fragile.

      All these can be serious impediments to an undisturbed-joyfulness type of life.

      Lack of Self-Esteem and Self-Respect

      Few years ago (2003), a paper by the psychologist Roy Baumeister rocked the science world. Titled “Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles?” it presented the idea (supported by research) that self-esteem and happiness are linked.[4]

      Specifically, high self-esteem leads to greater happiness.

      In addition, according to the famous American author and speaker Gary Vaynerchuk, the main reason people are unhappy is because they lack self-respect—that is, they value others’ opinions above their own. Of course, it makes sense—and surely, it rings true with many of us too.

      Personality

      Linked to the above is another hindrance to becoming relentlessly upbeat, which may prove slightly challenging to overcome, if even possible—your personality.

      Of course, not per the self-help industry which thrives on the assumption that you can, with your own willpower, become a different person altogether. Namely—a much better version of the current you.

      But what the Wise Men also tell us is that you are either born to be a silver-lining kind of person or you are not.

      You can, of course, work on yourself to start seeing the glass half-full (vs half-empty). But you may never reach the gregariousness of someone who is just born with a more care-free temperament.

      Unreasonably High Expectations

      Having high expectations of yourself can be beneficial, according to research.[5] It leads to higher performance—a phenomenon called the Pygmalion effect.

      Having too high expectations of yourself, though, may be counter-productive. You can run into all slew of mental health issues—depression, self-sabotaging, self-punishment, etc. And it can spill over all areas of your life.

      It’s certainly a case for future investigation.

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      Social Trends

      It will take perhaps at least few articles to list all the reasons why we can feel unhappy (a book even!).

      So, some of the other causes of being disgruntled with your life can be: long hours at work, “always-on” culture bread by the internet, increased screen time,[6] or boredom with one’s life (i.e. lack of excitement).

      Addiction to Unhappiness

      Apparently, you can also develop an addiction to unhappiness[7] —that is, some people like negative feelings and are “happy to be unhappy.” Rather disturbing, indeed.

      Unexplainable Reasons

      Or, sometimes, you just can’t put your finger on one thing, or on anything, for this matter—you don’t know for sure what makes you feel unhappy, nor what will make you happy. It feels like it’s everything—your whole life is a mess.

      But that’s not the end of the story. The most important questions you should be asking yourself are:

      Why? What’s the cause of my unhappiness?

      Because you can’t fix it when you don’t know what’s broken, right?

      5 Steps You Can Take to Figure Out The Why

      So, if you tick most of the symptoms above, it’s very likely that you are not living in Dream-land right now.

      Here is my advice on how to find your lumps in the batter.

      1. Mull over What “Happy” Means to You

      Happiness can take different shapes—hedonic pleasure, life satisfaction, desire fulfillment.[8] All of these—separately or together—can deliver to us sprinkles of joy.

      And because our lives are so diverse, the above will translate into different pursuits for each one of us.

      For instance, my hedonic weekend happiness means reading a book or writing, while for someone else—it’s socializing, taking a walk, or going on a shopping spree at the mall.

      Or, my life satisfaction can be to have a big family and leave a mark in the world this way. For others, it may be going after fame and fortunes. But either way, don’t fall for the society’s “narrative traps”[9]—that a bigger pay check, house, a certain job, person, etc. will give you a never-ending stream of bliss. It won’t, science confirms over and over.

      So, once you know what your happiness vision board looks like, you will have a better idea of what’s “missing” in your life.

      2. Re-Visit Your Expectations

      As I already mentioned, unreasonable expectations you or others have set for yourself can be deterring you from feeling gleeful.

      For one thing, aspirations often can become outdated. What you wanted ten or five years ago (or even six months ago) may not be relevant to your situation today and will need to be filed into a mental cabinet.

      Another issue is that our culture is putting an exponential pressure on all of us to perform more and better, to try and stretch the 24-hours a day into 30, to chase kudos and recognition. Any outcome that has earned less than the gold is punishable by exclusion for the cool crowd, by receiving less in perks, bonuses, and appreciation even.

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      As a result, anxiety, depression and all their dark friends start creeping into our minds and tint everything else that may be giving us joy and satisfaction.

      So, taking periodic audit of your expectations—their validity and importance place on your happiness list, is pivotal to stopping unhappiness spread into your life.

      3. Examine Your Way of Thinking

      At the heart of the so-called Rational Emotive Behavior Theory (REBT),[10] which was established by the American psychologist Albert Ellis in 1956, is the idea that it’s never the actual event that upsets us.It’s our interpretation and thoughts about it. By inference, changing our thoughts will reduce (and hopefully remove altogether) our anxiety.

      Let’s take this a stretch further. Positive (not delusional) thinking has been long proclaimed to be a winner when it comes to mental health. If you find yourself going down the spiral of negative inner dialogue, you must stop yourself immediately. It’s unhappiness trap.

      But it’s not easy-breezy, of course, to do such conscious policing all the time. It can become a habit, though, psychologists tell us. We can teach ourselves to quell negativity, and there are many things that can be done: How to Have Happy Thoughts and Train Your Brain to Be Happy

      And don’t forget to be grateful. It’s the best happiness shot there is.

      4. The Good Old Pros and Cons

      Although it may appear to be a less fascinating way to figure out whether you are unhappy or not, the pros-and-cons list has been around for a long time—and it’s still an excellent tool to let you examine things closely, evaluate alternatives and come to satisfactory answers.[11]

      Interestingly, as history tells us, this invention is credited to Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century. Notorious for his productivity, he applied the pros-cons exercise to almost everything in his life.

      The beauty of the method lies in its simplicity too. So, go back to the drawing board and start penciling down the things that you like and don’t like (make you unhappy) about your life, and the things that you know with certainty to make you happy today.

      Of the “things-that-make me-unhappy-about-my-life” subset, have a think what you can do to move these along the continuum—to the brighter side.

      You may be surprised to discover that you have much greater say in the building of your own happiness than chance, circumstances or others.

      5. Mental Cleansing

      Mental health is in the limelight quite often these days. And rightly so.

      The way we care about our bodies and minds directly links to many of our life outcomes.

      Mental clutter can become a well-being stumbling block. Overthinking, old grudges, past events, can all make it very challenging to feel elevated and content.

      Doing a mental cleanse once a month can be the remedy to set yourself on the path to happiness recovery.

      Pay a visit to the past to confront your fears, get rid of the people who bring you down, free yourself from any emotional baggage. It will help you silence the bully in your head.

      Take a periodic stock of all the things that make you anxious and declutter. Why hold on to the things that you know to bring you grief anyway?

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      Unless you are one of those unhappiness addicts I mentioned above (which calls for a more radical intervention), carrying emotional baggage without doing anything to unload it, is a anti-glee behavior.

      Bonus Advice

      Finding our Achilles’ heel of happiness can sometimes be a tall order. It takes time, conscious efforts and an honest desire to make it better. It also alludes that we are ready to take the plunge into the self-help territory and take actual steps to improve our situation.

      But it’s not a lost cause, the research tells us. It’s possible to make yourself happy on a consistent basis.

      Here are few universal suggestions:

      One of the things you can do is to inject some meaning back in your life. And the best way to go about this is to flip the narrative. Case in point—the story of John F Kennedy’s visit to NASA in 1962. He ran into a janitor and when asked him what he was doing, he replied: “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

      The happiness guru Gretchen Rubin tells us that there are two major path that lead a more fulfilling life:[12]

      One way is through our relationships—having strong bonds and feeling that we belong.

      The other route is through developing better self-knowledge—i.e. what things make us us, or glad, or sad. And base our way of living on our own values and goals, not others’.

      The feeling that we are not making progress is a definite joy crusher. We should compare wisely, find our passions, and diversify our experiences. These are not magic pills but more so opportunities to make our time here worthwhile and fulfilling.

      Final Thoughts

      Happiness is notoriously hard to pin down.

      There is no one definition of contentment, nor one way to ‘fix’ it. It’s one of those things that you can’t quantify and it’s idiosyncratic.

      More and more we hear a murmur from the science world that perhaps the best way to happiness is acceptance—of your failings and shortcomings, of the fact that life is imperfect.

      Knowing what makes us disgruntled is, of course, needed to find the right remedy for each one of us. Feeling constantly unhappy is not good and necessitates closer examination.

      Finally, beware of the narrative trap that if you are unhappy, there is something wrong with you. It may be normal, for a while at least. Otherwise, how would you appreciate the highlight moments of your life if you don’t see them against the backdrop of the gloomy times?

      Or, as the great singer Leonard Cohen tells us:

      “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

      More About Staying Happy

      Featured photo credit: Andrew Le via unsplash.com

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