When I became a mother I felt like I entered a new universe of emotions. I started to experience love, worry, joy, and hope with an intensity I didn’t know was possible. At the core of many of these feelings was the desire to protect my children, a motivation so primitive it felt beyond my control.
I still remember at my daughter’s first immunization appointment how she cried from the shot, and simultaneously my own tears popped out of my eyes onto the wax paper on the exam table. There I was, a rational mother who knew the purpose and need for these immunizations, telling myself to just hold her and that it would be over in a second, and yet feeling like my instincts completely took over at seeing my infant’s pain.
I know many of us become more sensitive when we have children, and sometimes we even purposefully avoid stories or movies about topics that will hit “too close to home,” like hearing about a child’s illness or death. Still, we can only avoid so much, as every day around us people are dealing with the most difficult life circumstances, families are struggling, and there are tragedies.
This past week has been a hard one for many of us. We all heard horrific stories from Orlando about men, women, sons and families losing their lives and loved ones. There is such grief and sadness. To say that the world feels scary at times like this is an understatement.
I often wonder how I can both bear witness to others’ struggles, but also protect myself so I don’t get overwhelmed by grief and worry. Admittedly, this is a privilege: I am not the one who is directly suffering, so I can choose how close I get to it. But as we live in a world where we have easy access to others’ stories on a constant basis, we do have to choose how much we let in. If we are not careful, we can become overwhelmed by what we hear and see, and our own mental health might suffer. In these cases we won’t be as effective at parenting and helping our kids navigate their own lives.
Below are some strategies for taking care of ourselves in light of scary and tragic events:
Let Yourself Feel. Some situations are so sad that they bring us to tears. It’s okay to cry about others’ suffering; it shows you are empathic and human. It’s also okay to feel fear. Acknowledging these feelings is important, rather than stuffing them away.
Talk to a Friend. In contrast to men, who often exhibit a “fight or flight” response to stress, women often “tend and befriend.” Sharing your feelings with a good friend, especially another mom who likely understands, can help you feel connected and affirmed.
Welcome the Gift of Perspective. Sometimes we are so entrenched in our daily lives that it is hard to step outside and realize what we have. Perspective is a gift that can make you more alert in your day, more patient, grateful, and thoughtful about your actions. Embracing the opportunity to gain perspective can help you to feel hopeful.
Take a Break From the Stimuli. We can get easily overloaded from media, particularly since it’s coming through so many devices (e.g., phone, iPad, computer, TV) and methods (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.). Sometimes we need a break from the stories and images. It doesn’t mean we are burying our heads in the sand or being disrespectful to those who are suffering; it just means we are taking care of ourselves.
Focus Your Energy on Something Productive. For some people, getting involved in advocacy or service can help with intense feelings. Maybe you share a statement or memorial about an event through your social media outlets. Or maybe you decide to do a completely unrelated service project that will take your mind off of the news for a while. Fueling your emotions in a positive way can be both distracting and empowering.
Check-In with Yourself. Are you feeling more sad than usual? Are you having certain worries that won’t go away? While fear and sadness may be normal responses to tragedies, check-in with yourself to see if they are affecting your daily functioning. You may need to make sure that you are attending to regular healthy meals, exercise, and sleep. If you continue to feel like you are having a hard time managing strong feelings, it may be an opportunity to talk to a mental health professional. Counseling can give you the chance to share what you are feeling with someone who is trained to help you gain clarity in your thoughts, and help you improve your well-being.
Take good care, fellow mama!
I'm Lisa, a mother and psychologist dedicated to supporting moms. Read more here.
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