Self Care In Troubled Times

take your time reading this three part series



We all have stress in our lives.  But lately, more often than usual -  you may find yourself snapping at people, afraid of your own shadow, weepy and bored, exhausted, guilty, pissed off, withdrawing, dropping out or obsessively talking politics, posting, protesting and striking out.   

What’s going on with the current administraton may be causing you a lot of anxiety, depression, and a range of troubling emotions.  You may be aware of the effects of bad news on your own psyches and relationships...or you might be challenged unconsciously.  

These are truly difficult times.  

Feelings of helplessness, exhaustion, anger, sadness, guilt and fear will ebb and flow and most importantly can TRIGGER earlier little (or big) traumas that sit in wait to be ignited by current events.  And without being aware, you can feel a lot worse than necessary.  

And if you were ever abused, neglected or betrayed…you may be pushed into PTSD type reactions.  

You need to be AWARE of this because if you don’t acknowledge it, things can feel worse.

The News is Pushing Your Buttons

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition that is usually associated with war veterans, but the term applies to any chronic anxiety you may experience after seeing or living through a dangerous event. That “event” could even mean childhood trauma of any kind or degree… as well as everything from car accidents to school shootings.  

People with PTSD often re-experience the trauma in their minds. When the memory brings on a physiological response or feeling it’s called a “trigger” or abreaction. (The release of emotional tension through the recalling of a repressed traumatic event.)  

Often the situation that brings on the abreaction is reminiscent of the original trauma. For example, if you’re a survivor of any form of abuse or neglect (esp. from a narcissist or sociopath who you counted on or had control over you) you might get more upset at autocratic, stubborn, irrational leaders than other people.  

An abreaction could be triggered by something someone says, circumstances such as the press of a crowd, being left totally alone, a darkened room...or even a particular time of the year, smells, touch, tastes...or other things associated with the trauma.  

And if you hear or see things that upset you in this way on an ongoing, daily basis…it is really hard to keep your bearings.  

Suddenly, you’re unconsciously transported as if in a time machine to the event of the original trauma and you react with the emotional intensity that would have been appropriate then, though not now.  

During an abreaction it is difficult to distinguish "what was" from "what is". The problem is you may function well in many aspects of life until you encounter the events or circumstances that are likely to trigger abreactions such as struggles with authority figures, cultural oppression or abandonment.  A random and violent imposition of another's will onto a relatively helpless person can lead to despair or other challenging feelings.  

What’s Your Story?

We all sometimes get giddy, excited, grumpy, teary-eyed or jittery.  Your job is to monitor which of these feelings might be overly stimulated because of your past.

It’s appropriate to be angry when you feel you are being disrespected, misunderstood, lied to, betrayed or put down.  But when it becomes a constant urgent feeling, please just take a look at what is coming up from the past so you can kind of “shave the edge off” of the exteme reaction and take care of yourself.  

Are you feeling angry, guilty, ashamed, scared, sad, weak, aggressive, confused?  Unfortunately there is just cause for alarm.  You are not imaging things.  And you are totally entitled to feel whatever you feel!  

Some of the feelings might be things like the following. 
See how easy it is to put it together for each person.  

From a woman who was molested as a child:
 “I’m so irate that these people are getting away with it.  Are they going to just do whatever they want?” 

From a child of holocaust survivors: 

“I can’t stop talking about it. I’ve got to do something big and act now.  I have to fix things.”  

From the son of an Iranian American: 

“I feel tormented by guilt that I am not doing enough. I just don't want to be distracted from my own good life.”  

From a life-long activist and health care worker: 

“I can’t stop crying at the drop of a hat.  Is everything I’ve worked for going down the drain?”  

From a survivor of severe neglect as a child: 

“I’m nervous every night when I’m home alone and can’t get to sleep.”  

From a rape survivor:

 “I can’t stop thinking about what’s going on. Nothing else in life seems to interest me.”  

Understanding the Fight/Flight/Freeze Response

There’s a part of your brain that does not think. but instead causes you to just react to a perceived threat of danger (it’s called the Amygdala).   

When we feel chronically threatened, fight-or-flight hormones begin to go on overdrive and can cause harm - producing inflammation, depleting energy reserves and also playing havoc with relationships.  

Anyone in a state of this primitive (built in) animal arousal is not able to listen or communicate very well, to problem solve, digest food or sleep. And during stressful times you need sleep more than ever, to repair and replenish.

What are you doing to make yourself feel worse?                  

Just like most of us, you have a Menacing Character in your psyche that bugs you, criticizes, or frightens you with upsetting messages. 

Usually we are only aware of our response (we feel “bad’).  

You get a feeling about what is going on politically for example, and the unconscious internal response makes you fell worse, not better.   

The emotion gets put down in ways like this: 

 “I’m sad that our freedom seems threatened.” 

“Quit your bellyaching and stop complaining.  It’s no big deal”   

“I’m scared that I’m going to lose my rights.” 

“Well then why don’t you do something about it instead of whining?”   

“I’m mad that people seem to have no regard for the environment.” 

“You’re always mad at something.  You have anger issues.”   

“I’m worried that I’ll lose my money.” 

“You should have saved more and not spent so much on stupid things.”  

 “I just want to stick my head in the sand.”
“You’re lazy and never pay attention to anything anyway and never do anything.”  

 “I can’t stop thinking about what is going on.” 

“Go ahead, there’s no time to rest. You have to do something.”   

“Things seem to be getting really bad.” 

“Everything is fine.  The fact is things are great.”   

“I’m frightened that I may lose my social security.” 

“Big deal, you’ll probably die an early death anyway.”


How to Cope and Feel Better

Give yourself permission to feel whatever you are feeling!


You might be feeling terrified, numb, hopeless, hopeful, unsympathetic, enraged, wordless, agitated, immature, hypersensitive or irrationally happy.  

There is no right way to feel, but you will get better sleep at night (which is very important) if you allow yourself to feel lots of wide-ranging or intense emotions. 


During scary, uncertain times it's important not to spin out on fear, but to treat it like an animal that needs respectful, caring attention. If a terrified rabbit turned up in your living room, you wouldn’t yell at it; you would be still, talk in a quiet, friendly tone, and try to wrap it up in a towel to soothe it.

If your own heart pounds, try to treat it like a frightened rabbit. Try breathing in normally and breathing out slowly, as this will naturally bring your nervous system closer to being balanced. If you feel like yawning, yawn away — another wonderful natural regulatory mechanism the body uses to bring us back from fight-or-flight. Feel your feet on the ground, feel the ground under you, make sure to drink fluids and eat something nourishing if you can. Call a friend or take a walk.

Don’t Get Used to Things That Upset You

There 's a relentless onslaught of news.

It might be feeling like every time you open your browser you get the wind knocked out of you. If you wake up in the morning, check your phone… a cloud of sadness and anxiety may settle over your entire day. You can’t live like this over the long term.  

So when it gets to be too much, it’s okay to unplug for a bit.  

Stop refreshing Twitter and reading the news. Stop feeling guilty when someone asks you if you’ve been following the latest story and you have to say no. Go a week or a day or even an hour without talking/reading/writing about what’s going on in Washington. It will still be there when you get back, I promise.  

This is really important, because at some point it will become too much to handle.  

You can cope by shutting it out for a while — binge watching Netflix, playing with your dog, going to yoga.   But if you don’t do that, if you try to maintain this fever pitch of anguish and fear and outrage, something far worse than a little down time is going to happen. Your brain, to protect you, will just turn down the volume on the outrage and adapt.   

People can get used to anything, and if you don’t take steps to prevent it, you will get used to it.  

It’s okay to resist the powerful urge to adapt to the new normal. But that doesn’t mean you have to live in a constant state of anxiety and anger. It means, when you do think about what upsets you politically, the appropriate feeling is outrage. But you can’t live like that all the time, and that means you have to spend a significant amount of time notthinking about it and all the work that has to be done.   I promise this will not make you a bad or a weak person.  

You will do more good if you make time for other conversations and non-political activities. It’s like taking a vacation from your job, which research has shown dramatically boosts productivity. Take a good long break, then come back refreshed and ready to work.  

Not every job has to be done by you, even if you’re the best at it. If social media trolls are giving you heart palpitations, you can let a tweet go un-answered. Even if you’re the most knowledgeable person at the dinner party, you don’t have to be the one to jump in when the conversation turns to politics. For that matter, you don’t have to show up to the dinner party if you know it’s going to turn into a debate.  

Be careful about social media! 

Please pay attention to how you feel while you’re using social media (or compulsively checking).  Are you feeling a warm glow of connecting with friends, family and people you enjoy? That sounds good. But if you’re getting agitated, having fruitless arguments with strangers or if you find yourself ruminating about a Facebook post instead of sleeping at night, then try to switch to something less disturbing to your peace of mind.

Instead of being obsessed with your devices.  Go...Watch a movie. Call a friend. Give money or time to a good cause.

Focus Your Energy on One or Two Issues

You can’t show up to every march and donate to every cause. You can’t write treatises on every issue and argue with everyone you disagree with. 

If you want to be effective on anything, pick an issue or two that matter most to you and fight for them. Let the others go. 

Ignore people who say things like, “you’re not a real feminist if you aren’t working to protect the environment” or “you’re betraying the cause of economic justice if you don’t show up for prison reform.” That’s all nonsense. There is a spectrum of support, and nobody can be everywhere at once.  

Do not engage in activist one-upmanship, and don’t allow yourself to be shamed for not being fully briefed and up to date on everything, for not spending your days glued to CSPAN and Twitter, for not making someone else’s number one issue yours as well.  

That is a demand for emotional labor from you, and you do not have to give it.

You don’t have to suffer to make a difference

Go ahead and do things that are good for the world, but do them in ways that you personally enjoy.

Don’t let anyone tell you that HUMOR IS WRONG... or that you aren’t allowed to be proud of your contribution, or that it’s unseemly to have fun while you’re doing serious work. That’s all bull, and it’s counterproductive to boot.  

Don’t forget to play to your strengths. There’s no need to force yourself to do a kind of work that you find unpleasant or boring.

If you’re a writer, write articles shedding light on important issues, convincing the other side or rallying your allies to action. If you’re an artist, make art with a conscience. Teachers can bring social justice into your curriculum. Lawyers can volunteer at free legal clinics, write amicus briefs, do pro bono work. Like to argue? Be the one who calls out the sexist comment at a dinner party when everyone else doesn’t know how to react. Love to bake? Bring cookies to activist meetings and homeless shelters.

No matter what your passion is, there’s a way to use it for good and have a great time doing it…and be patient with yourself if you don't know what to do....the right action will come if and when it comes to you!


The Basics of Self Care



Emotional freedom means learning how to stay centered in a stressful, highly emotionally charged world. Since emotions such as fear, anger, and frustration are energies, you can potentially “catch” them from people without realizing it.  

If you tend to be an emotional sponge, you might become hyper-attuned to others, especially those with similar pain.  

That’s how empathy works; we zero in on hot-button issues that are unresolved in ourselves. From an energetic standpoint, negative emotions can originate from several sources. What you’re feeling may be your own; it may be someone else’s; or it may be a combination.  

Absorbing other people’s emotions can trigger panic, depression, food, sex and drug binges, and a plethora of physical symptoms that defy traditional medical diagnosis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that more than two million Americans suffer from chronic fatigue. It’s likely that many of them are emotional sponges.  

Ask yourself: Is the feeling mine or someone else’s? It could be both. If the emotion such as fear or anger is yours, and if it is safe to gently confront what’s causing it... DO SO...on your own or with professional help. If not, try to pinpoint the obvious generator. Are you even absorbing the emotion of someone on TV or on Facebook?  

When possible, distance yourself from the suspected source. Move away; see if you feel relief. Don’t err on the side of not wanting to offend strangers. In a public place, don’t hesitate to change seats if you feel a sense of depression imposing on you.

Breathe.   For a few minutes, center yourself by concentrating on your breath. This connects you to your essence. Keep exhaling negativity, inhaling calm. This helps to ground yourself and purify fear or other difficult emotions.  

Emotions such as fear frequently lodge in your emotional center at the solar plexus. Place your palm there as you keep sending loving-kindness to that area to flush stress out. For longstanding depression or anxiety, use this method daily to strengthen this center. It’s comforting and builds a sense of safety and optimism.  

Look for positive people and situations. Call a friend who sees the good in others. Spend time with a colleague who affirms the bright side of things. Listen to hopeful people. Hear the faith they have in themselves and others. Also relish hopeful words, songs, and art forms. Hope is contagious and it will lift your mood…esp. before you go to sleep!    


Put yourself first.  
It is totally appropriate to make sure you are doing the basics before you can help anyone else or serve your favorite cause.

Get enough sleep.
You’d be amazed what sleep-deprivation does to your body and mind. If you do only one self-care thing (other than therapy), this should be it.  

Go to the doctor.
Take care of your body — you only get the one.  

You don’t have to run a marathon, but do some yoga or go for a jog or at least take a walk.  

Spend time with friends.
Just be with people who love you, doing fun stuff.  

Get some me-time.
Read a book, watch a movie, take a walk, whatever. Just be in your own company for a while.  

Eat well.
Sure, healthy is good, but good food can also mean delicious. Cook (or order) food that makes you happy. Not too much.  Not too little.  

Get outside.
If you live near woods or mountains or oceans, awesome. If not, just stroll around your neighborhood and breathe some fresh air.