And then, I remembered. The headlines and devastating videos from the war between Israel and Gaza surfaced in my mind. The earthquake in Afghanistan. The war in Ukraine. My momentary lightness disappeared, and the anxiety of it all returned to my gut, welled up in my chest and forced my eyes shut again. I hugged my dog, wishing for a better world.
Psychologist Lesley Alderman says her patients have consistently told her they have grown weary of bad news. They have wanted to feel like life would return to normal after years of pandemic living, only to conclude that “normal” isn’t what it used to be.
Alderman has noticed that her patients are experiencing a “deficit of optimism,” feeling overwhelmed and anxious about important issues far beyond their control. She called it “hope fatigue,” and the symptoms include feeling anxious, a need to tune out or feeling like giving up.
Alderman notes that dwelling on issues that seem unfixable can lead to an “anxious paralysis,” but she says there is hope. She outlines eight steps to help ease your anxiety when world events — or even personal ones — are out of your control.
Take a break from the news. “I advise patients who are feeling depressed by the headlines to read the news just once a day, turn off alerts on their phone and, if possible, check social media sparingly.”
Take care of yourself. “I tell my patients: You have to be in good fighting shape to cope with the current turbulence.” That means boosting your resilience by sleeping, eating and exercising well and engaging in life-affirming activities.
Focus on the present. Get in the habit of anchoring yourself in the here and now. Fretting about the future is not helpful.
Try a breathing exercise. Take a few deep breaths. Inhale to the count of five and exhale to the count of five. It will help calm your sympathetic nervous system (the fight-or-flight response) and lower your anxiety.
Think about your victories. Remind yourself of what’s working well in your life — whether it’s your job, friendships or something else.
Be your own therapist. Ask yourself, “What do I specifically feel hopeless about and why?” Being able to put into words what’s getting you down can help you feel less flooded by emotions and better able to process the information rationally.
Take action. Worrying doesn’t help one’s mental health, but taking action does.
Join forces with a friend. Pick a cause. There are hundreds of nonprofits dedicated to addressing some of the most tenacious challenges on the planet. Donate money or volunteer.
These steps won’t ease the suffering of others or solve a geopolitical crisis or end a war. But they will help you manage your anxiety, be more present for yourself and others and, hopefully, take action to make your community better.
“Look around your community,” Alderman writes. “Maybe your local playground would benefit from a basketball court, or your church or synagogue could sponsor a refugee family. When people engage in local issues, they have a renewed sense of optimism.”
Read more about hope fatigue and what you can do about it.
How much sunshine are you getting?
One simple thing we can do for both mental and physical health is spend a little time outdoors in the sunshine. In many places, fall is one of the best seasons for spending time outdoors — there’s plenty of sunshine, mild temperatures and gorgeous fall foliage.
The typical person is outside for far fewer hours in the day than was the case generations ago, said Richard Weller, a professor of dermatology at the University of Edinburgh.
“Until the Industrial Revolution, 150 years ago, we have lived our entire evolutionary history outdoors all day, every day,” he said. “What is abnormal is that we now spend our lives inside and briefly pop outside.”
But exposure to daylight has been shown to help boost the body’s production of vitamin D, mitigate digital eyestrain, regulate a person’s circadian rhythm and increase alertness and mood.
Stepping outside in the morning, within the first few hours after waking up, is the most important signal you can send to your body’s circadian clock. Depending on what time you have to get to work, the timing of a sunny morning walk may not be possible, but there’s always the weekend.
Sunshine has been in the news lately because many Apple watches that count our steps and check our heart rates can now keep track of our sunlight exposure. To learn more, read the full report.
A simple routine for more youthful skin
This week a reader is looking for a simple, affordable prescription that will help keep skin more youthful. Our Ask a Doctor columnist, Trisha S. Pasricha, did a deep dive into the medical research on skin care and came up with a surprising, simple morning and evening routine. You can read about it here.
And use our Ask a Doctor form to submit a question, and we may answer it in a future column.
Here are a few things that brought us joy this week.
- We can’t stop thinking about these crispy potatoes with a creamy chimichurri sauce that starts with parsley and cashews. Watch this TikTok video and then go straight to your kitchen.
- The Voraciously team is celebrating National Book Month by pairing great books with great food. There’s key lime pie to enjoy with Nora Ephron’s “Heartburn.” Or enjoy a mint julep while reading “The Great Gatsby.” Call your book club friends and enjoy one of these nine recipes inspired by great literary meals.
- This record-setting 2,749 pound pumpkin is named Michael Jordan.
- It was the year of the sow! The ladies dominated Fat Bear Week this year. Meet the winner: Grazer. She’s got blonde ears, a bodacious bod and a reputation for being a warrior mother, writes our fat-bear expert, Natalie B. Compton. You’ll love Natalie’s report and an accompanying YouTube video of Grazer in action.
- And if you haven’t gotten enough fat-bear news, here’s one of my favorite Your Move columns. Gretchen Reynolds explores the science of the beachball-shaped bruins and how understanding their hibernation can help us learn more about diabetes, muscle atrophy and inactivity.