In episode 294, I received a very relevant who struggles with feelings of anger and low mood caused by everything that is going on in the world. In this post, I offer my thoughts on this and take a look at some actions you can take to help combat this.
Hey Dr Duff (i remember the episode where someone addressed u as Mr), I love your podcast (only started listening a few weeks ago but made it through quite a few episodes) and think you make really valid points. I have a question that maybe you’ve answered before but I didn’t see it. I have a “perfect” life. Happily married, both of us in high-paying jobs, surrounded by supportive friends and family, a loving weener dog, etc., so I consider myself lucky. But, lately, more often than not I get angry at everything that’s going on in the world. There is a german word that I think best describes what I’m feeling: WELTSCHMERZ (literal translation world-pain). One of the definitions online of it is: “mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state” I feel like the whole world is going fubar and I can’t isolate myself from it because it’s all around me. Any advice on how to cope with this?
Thank you for this question. You know, I have a sneaking suspicion that there are a lot of people that are in your spot right now. There are probably a lot of people that will be googling this term because it sounds like exactly what they are feeling.
First off, it’s okay that you feel this way. You aren’t doing anything wrong. You aren’t being ungrateful. This is a legitimate thing to be feeling. We don’t have control over this sort of thing. You can recognize that it’s privileged, that you have so much going for you in life, etc. But that doesn’t mean that you are magically going to stop feeling this way. You don’t need to deny the hard parts of life and the things wrong with the world. There is a lot of pain and injustice out there. There always will be, but sometimes, it is more apparent and stark. Right now, we are in the midst of both a global pandemic and a war. That’s a f**king lot. And of course, there are carry-over effects from all of this, such that even if you aren’t in an area directly impacted, you see the impact in small or big ways in everyday life.
So, I have a few tips for you. First off, I always encourage some form of self-reflection. This is advice I feel like I give every other episode. But this can be journaling, talking to a friend, screaming into the ether in your car, or talking to yourself out loud in the shower. But give yourself the chance to actively explore what you are feeling. Don’t just write your feelings off as stupid and try to ignore them. That’s not helpful. Ask yourself why you are feeling the way you do. You did a pretty good job of summarizing it here, but you can also reflect more specifically on what is burdening you on a given day. Maybe it’s the war, maybe it’s things that you experienced personally in your week, maybe it’s something you saw on TV, maybe it’s a little bit of everything. Whatever the case may be, try to tease apart those threads a bit and give yourself the chance to validate your own feelings. From there, you may be better equipped to let those negative things fade to the background a bit. In these journaling/reflection exercises, you could also start tracking things you are grateful for and/or goodness that you see in the world. Intentionally take time to observe the good in the world and track it.
Even when there are factors that are outside of your control, whenever possible, active coping is better than passive coping. That means DOING something about it. This can be tricky when you are not in a position to literally go and solve the problem. But what can you do? Are there elements that make you feel helpless where you actually can have a degree of influence? A simple version of this would be donating to a cause or an organization that you feel is making an impact. There may also be opportunities to volunteer. Sometimes even simply doing research and making sure you understand a situation well enough to advise others is a good way to feel empowered. As the social-media therapist Tiffany Roe says, “Feel, deal, heal.” Beyond trying to make an impact related to the issues you see, you can also just focus on making the world a better place in general. This can be through personal projects, helping individuals, or donating your time. Basically just trying to do your part to offset some of the pain in the world in some small way. As always, I will advise you to manage your news consumption, which includes things like social media, youtube, and reddit carefully. Be very honest with yourself about how much you are staying informed vs torturing yourself. I’m not going to harp on this too much, as I’ve also talked about this in a recent episode.
Even with a “perfect life”, you may find that you are missing things that make you feel fulfilled. Pay attention to this. Are there activities or interests that you have been neglecting that you could return to? Where do you feel most connected to humanity, where do you lose yourself in joy most often? See about doing more of these things. I’m not sure how old you are, but you might look a little bit into Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development – each age range has a different essential conflict, key questions to be answered, and an outcome. So for instance, if you are in middle adulthood (40-65) the conflict is generativity vs stagnation and the question to answer is “will I provide something of real value.” If this applies to you, you could be in a situation where you need to be focusing on creating things that outlast you. That makes a difference in some way. Just a good frame to consider your current situation. It could be that you have a lot of great stuff going on, but it’s just not the great stuff that is related to your developmental task at this moment. It could be that medication or therapy would be helpful here as well. These things are not just for people with significant depression. They can also be good for people with dysthymia which is a low-grade but persistent depression. And for normal people that are just stuck in a bit of a rut.
Common suggestions like meditation, mindfulness and other self-care activities can be helpful as well, but what I’d advise you to do is be curious and experimental about it. Try some things out – see how they work. And move on to other strategies if you aren’t getting a lot out of them. The same thing does not help every person.
You can listen to this on Episode 294 of the podcast!
Thank you for the great question!
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