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Tips for Staying Sane in an Insane World

Here’s free access to my top four tips for staying sane in an insane world:

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To state the obvious, the world has become an increasingly complex place lately. The stress of climate change, a global pandemic, political mayhem, and gun violence in the US (just to name a few things!) have collided with people being online more than ever before. This is not a recipe for robust mental health (not at all), but I know how to survive and even thrive amidst this chaos, and I can teach you how.

If you’ve been struggling with how to manage stress and take care of your mental health recently you may benefit from reading my top 4 tips for surviving in this new Mad Max universe – please note that they’re deceptively simple. This may not feel immediately like it’s ground-breaking to you but, if you actually embrace these ideas, they just might revolutionize your life.

Ready? Here we go:

Spend time with your people.

It’s ideal to do this in person but if you can’t, try a phone call (or FaceTime if that’s your thing) where you put down your distractions and get PRESENT with one another. This kind of quality time releases oxytocin in the brain, which promotes mental health and wellbeing. Other things that release oxytocin are hugs and any form of wanted physical contact – pets/animals included.

Human beings are the most social species on the planet and we are not meant to struggle alone (it’s in our DNA to be community-oriented), so make plans with your friends and family to get together and catch up in person. And get as touchy feely as you can while also minding everyone’s personal boundaries 🙂

Note: I’m sorry to say it but texting does not count here! We get dopamine hits when we text and that can be exciting, but we do not get oxytocin from that, so please make sure that your relationships are not being maintained solely by text or email.

Spend time in nature.

Whether you live in the city or in the country, try to spend time outdoors at least once a week. Take a walk (ideally near a body of water or some trees), find a patch of grass and take your shoes off, or just sit and notice what’s going on around you. Being in nature reduces stress and activates the alpha brainwave state which is what’s happening when we feel calm, but alert, and we’re at our most creative.

In the words of the great Liz Lemon: I want to go to there.

Limit your access to digital technology – namely time online and/or consuming news.

I know this one is tough – but it might be the most important. We all need to be mindful of our media consumption. Instant access to information (and the constant deluge of it) is both a blessing and a curse for many of us, and I worry about the “doom scrollers” among us the most – for a few reasons. One is that you’re saturating your brains with information that’s dispiriting – often which you have no direct control over. Furthermore, you may also be passing all of the good news in the world by. It might seem like good news or signs of optimism these days are non-existent but I promise that’s not true.

In the US we use the phrase, “If it bleeds it leads” because people tend to click the most on news that’s upsetting or activating for the sympathetic nervous system (the part that engages for our fight or flight response) – and the news is a capitalist enterprise like any other. It’s guided by its profit motives. So be aware that things are often not quite as bad as we’re led to believe. We can see that most clearly when we put down our phones and live in the here and now of the “real” world.

Note: The pull of our phones is STRONG, so turn the ringer off from time to time and step away from it. It’s also important to pay attention to push notifications in terms of what pops up as an alert. I promise you that you do not need CNN to tell you when to pay attention to it. That’s up for you to decide. If you want to know how I live: The only communications that push through on my phone are text messages and my ringer is almost always off.

Take positive action.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like nothing you do will matter. But this is so far from the truth. Pick a cause you care about and take action – ideally with other people. That may mean going to a rally with friends, or finding a group of like-minded people to volunteer with. Doing so has a number of benefits and ripple effects – one is that it gets you off your phone! (You put your phone away when you’re with other people, right? I hope so 🙂

It also puts you in contact with other people and, depending on what kind of volunteering you do, it gets you into nature. Furthermore, it increases your sense of agency and encourages positive thinking – which doesn’t hurt.

Thanks for reading! Here are two bonus tips:

1) If you look closely, there are elements of what we call “mindfulness” woven through all of these suggestions – present moment awareness. We are (ideally) present when we’re with the people we care about, more present with our surroundings when we’re in nature, certainly more present when we’re disconnected from technology, and at least hopefully present in the DOING of our service work.

This is no accident. We have over 5,000 years worth of data (no joke) to support the idea that our mental wellness benefits from meditation and mindfulness practices, and that’s because life is lived in the here and now. Everything that ever happened to you prior to you reading these very words is over, and the future has not happened yet; it is, by definition, uncertain. All you have is an ever-unfolding now, so this is your point of greatest power, always.

You don’t need to become an avid meditator if that’s not your calling (truly), but you always have the opportunity to come back to the present moment, and to make it the best moment that it can be.

2) When I talk about the value of spending time with people we care about, it’s very important that you notice which relationships in your life fill your cup versus deplete you, because not every relationship is equal. This is a hard truth. You may have people in your life that you love very much, but they drain you. You may have friends that you’ve grown apart from. It can be a tough reality to face that spending time with them doesn’t make you feel better, but for the sake of your mental health: Take stock. This is not a place for clear cut answers, but I highly suggest that you spend the majority of your social time with people who make you feel good about yourself, and about life. If you don’t have people like that in your universe: Go find some.

If you’re wondering where to go next you can either check out my podcast (it’s in all the apps), hire me to speak by emailing [email protected], or submit an anonymous question to the Advice column.

Thanks and – as my mother always used to say: Make it a great day 🙂