The world is on fire. At least, that’s what it seems like. Sometimes quite literally. Wherever you look, there are problems:
- A deadly global pandemic
- Wildfires on several continents
- Police brutality, escalating protests, and racial tensions
- Economic problems and huge unemployment numbers
- A growing social divide and political tensions
- Lack of effective political leadership and growing authoritarianism in several countries
All of this is reason enough to despair and many of us do. Feelings of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation have increased considerably in recent months.
However, what can we do about it? In this post, I hope to give you some practical input, inspiration, and recipes how to hold steadfast in difficult times and try to be a light for yourself and others instead of giving in to despair.
This will be a slightly different kind of post than the usual Torque content. But seeing as what is going on in the world today, I think it’s justified to take a break from the usual WordPress plugin lists and weigh in on the current situation.
So, here it goes.
Take Care of Yourself First
Everyone who has been on a plane knows that you are supposed to put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else. It’s because you will have a hard time saving another person while you yourself are suffocating.
The same is true in life. You cannot take care of others unless you take care of you first. While sacrificing yourself will work for a while, at some point, you will run out of steam. And while it might seem like the noble thing to do, think about this:
- You are not helping your family and friends by being a burned-out wreck.
- Your children don’t benefit from a parent who is a shell of their former self.
- You don’t even help your employer and/or clients by sacrificing yourself. Sooner or later your work will suffer or you will collapse and lose the ability to work. Neither is in their interest.
So, no matter what is going on in your life, your first order of business is to right yourself and get to a point where you feel stable enough to make a difference.
When things are out of control, it’s important that you focus on those things that you do have control over. Here’s what that might look like.
1. Establish a Regular Sleep Schedule
Erratic sleep schedules are a killer. If you have trouble sleeping, set your alarm to go off at the same time every weekday and go to bed at roughly the same time (preferably about nine hours before you are scheduled to wake up). This is a good way to help you fall asleep faster and sleep through the night. There is also science to it.
2. Work Out
Getting physical activity is a keystone habit. It influences so many things like anxiety levels, happiness hormones, sleep, etc. Plus, it doesn’t have to be crazy.
Start with something like walking, stretching, calisthenics, or running. Do it regularly and pair it with some healthy food and you have a surefire recipe for improving your energy levels.
3. Establish Social Contact
Humans are social animals, there is no denying it. Isolation is never a good thing, especially in difficult times when your mental health might already be a bit lopsided.
So, make sure you have someone to talk to, meet friends and family with sufficient social distance outside, use technology to talk to people remotely. It’ll do you good, I promise. For really bad cases, there is also professional help.
4. Reduce Your Exposure to the News
The trouble with modern news media is that it has become less about information and more about keeping you stuck to the screen. The latter is more easily achieved with bad news and panic than with good news and reasonable reporting. So, if you start feeling out of control, a break from the news cycle might be a good idea.
5. Make Time for Fun
You can’t always be productive, you can’t save the world by yourself. Everyone needs relaxation and recovery. Make time to reconnect with yourself so you feel physically present in your body.
The above is your baseline and habits that will carry you through tough times. Make an effort to build a good foundation that you can fall back on when things are difficult.
How to Make a Difference
So, after you have taken care of yourself, how do you carry this into the world? How can you possibly contribute to a betterment of your surroundings?
1. Decide Who You Want to Be (And Talk About It)
“Be the change you want to see in the world.”Mahatma Ghandi
Yes, this is a slightly overused quote, however, it is for a reason. The thing is, you can not change other people. Rarely in the history of the world was someone won over by another person pointing at them and shouting “you are wrong!” If this would work, we wouldn’t be in the political climate we are in.
There’s some weird automatic human reflex to dig in and defend your position when it gets attacked, maybe even if you don’t fully believe in it. People just don’t want to be wrong, even more so in a time where apparently everyone is entitled to their own facts.
So, you cannot force people to be different, you can only lead by example. To that end, make a choice about what you want to represent in the world, what kind of light you want to shine and start embodying it. Here’s what that can look like:
- Decide to start treating people decently: be polite to strangers, greet people on the street, hold open doors, pay compliments and be kind.
- Change your electricity provider to renewable energies, reduce your use of plastic, take public transportation to save gas.
- Reach out to people who live alone and offer your help, buy food for a homeless person, call a friend who is struggling, talk to your neighbors.
Explain your choices and reasons for doing what you do when somebody asks without preaching or getting defensive. Remember, you can’t change them, you can only lead by example.
So, authentically be who you want to be and what you would like to see in the world. It can have a ripple effect way beyond yourself.
2. Inform Yourself
Whatever issue it is you are most concerned about these days, take a deep dive into it. Find out all you can about it, especially concerning potential solutions and possible steps you can take to address or mitigate the situation.
For example, fear voter disenfranchisement? Make sure you are registered to vote. Mail ballot voting being sabotaged? Drop it off at the early voting ballot box. You can find information about all of this and more under vote.org.
Not only will being informed help you feel like you’ve got a better grasp on the topic but also show you ways to deal with it. Make sure to focus on credible sources whose function it is to inform objectively and not stoke emotions, rile up people, or push an agenda.
Try to stay calm and rational, look for practical solutions and opportunities you could use to your advantage. Leave no stone unturned and keep going until you feel like you understand the facts and feel competent. This will give you a much better leg to stand on. We have tried to do this for small business and corona here.
3. Contribute to the Greater Good
Alright, from here, let’s start drawing even bigger circles. Outside of your own life and immediate surroundings, how can you start to have an impact on the world at large? What can you do to meet the challenges of the times? How can you be of service to other people and your environment?
Others have asked themselves that question and came up with different answers:
- Distilleries started making disinfectant.
- A whole lot of online companies gave away their online courses and other offerings for free.
- In many places, such as New York, people created networks and services to get food and medicine to elderly and vulnerable people.
- There are many stories of customers leaving outrageous tips at restaurants to help keep them afloat.
In my personal life it looks like this:
- My wife regularly gives to organizations who rescue and home street animals in her homeland Turkey.
- We both contributed to funds for Beirut after the catastrophic harbor explosion.
- I offset the carbon emissions for every flight or longer trip we take, usually by 200%. You can do the same here.
- When we replace furniture in our house, we donate the old furniture to people in need instead of throwing it away.
I’m not trying to brag or show off here. The point I’m trying to make is that there’s always something you can do. Hell, this very article is my way of trying to put something good out into the aether and hopefully move the needle in the right direction just a little bit.
Yet, doing things like this is important on a personal level – they make you feel less powerless. Plus, contributing can actually accomplish something, which brings us to my next point.
4. Get Organized
Alright, what if you want to make actual, pivotal changes in the world? In that case, you don’t get around careful planning and organization.
Greater change often moves slowly so you need to be prepared for that. However, if you decide to go out and do something, you will be in good company. If you know where to look, you can find plenty of examples of others doing the same:
- Young people around the world have started suing their governments for insufficient action on climate change
- Lady Gaga put together a charity concert which raised $35 million in donations for COVID relief and research
- More and more people who are dissatisfied with their government’s handling of important issues run for office and win.
Maybe you don’t have the energy for something of this proportion. I understand, life can be exhausting these days.
However, maybe you can start smaller. Petition your local government, call, email, or tweet at your representative, go to town hall meetings, participate in protests. There are plenty of things you can do.
5. Stay True to Your Values
Think about a person who hates you and you hate them. From now on, just show that person nothing but love. Now I’m not saying for a second that, that person will start loving you – they’ll probably still f*cking hate you. But one thing will happen: Eventually, everyone will see them as the a*hole.Jim Jefferies
This is a bit of an unorthodox way of saying it but it contains a good sentiment. You can not beat hate with hate, you can not beat oppression with oppression or violence with violence.
While it’s important to take advantage of what’s available to you, don’t abandon your values. Through all of this, it’s important to stay committed to who you want to be and what you want to represent.
I know that this isn’t easy. It’s also not the the prevalent tone of our times. A lot of people are letting themselves be whipped into a frenzy, do awful things, and act in ways that they wouldn’t under normal circumstances.
However, “but they are doing it…” is not an argument. The point is to lead by example and be a positive symbol for how to do things differently.
It’s not about feeling superior to another person either but about standing up for something good and trying to make a difference. So, stay the course, stay calm, keep going.
6. Find the Others
During all of the craziness that surrounds us, it’s important to remember that you are not the only one who feels this way. Billions of us are dealing with the challenges of our times and many are looking for ways to make a difference just like you. You are not alone.
Find a way to connect to like-minded people. No matter what challenge you are facing, there are other individuals and organizations dealing with it as well.
If you are reading this, you are probably already part of one of the largest communities on the web, the WordPress community. It is chock full of people donating their time to improve a free piece of software and helping others start and run their own websites.
It’s like that with everything else. You just need to know where to look. Communities around issues are also a great resource of information about what you can do and how you can get involved.
Plus, they are a source of companionship and inspiration. So you no longer have to feel alone. When dealing with lots of uncertainty and doubt, that’s already worth a lot.
Final Thoughts: Being a Force for Good
We are living in difficult and challenging times. There are a lot of pressing issues that call for our attention. It can be overwhelming and disheartening to see what is happening.
However, through it all, it’s important to remember that you are not powerless. There are many ways you can make positive changes. Start with yourself, where you are, with what you have. Hold on to yourself and your vision and take steps in the right direction one day at a time.
Also, remember that what you do is contagious. It can have an effect far beyond yourself.
Not everything might pay off the way you want. Not all of us have the power to make changes on a global scale and that’s okay. However, all of use can do something. Let’s start with that.
What is one thing you can do to start making a difference? What is helping you feel less powerless? Let us know in the comments section below.