Amy: It’s been quite a week here in New York City, perhaps the most global of all American cities. It’s common for conversations with friends and colleagues to begin with the phrase, “I’m feeling incredibly overwhelmed/depressed/anxious… ” fill in the blank. All of this anguish as a result of the election of T. as President, and what that might mean for our great democracy.
For example, one family doctor colleague, when I casually asked how she was doing, responded, “I’m suffering from dysthymia”, i.e. depression. She went on to talk about how she and her husband, both Asian and Muslim, both highly capable physicians, spent the weekend unable to move from the house, barely able to get out of bed.
Or my young family medicine resident, a beautiful young woman, American-born but of Indian descent, crying as she described feeling unsafe in the streets of New York city, due to the vitriol of the T campaign.
Or my family doctor colleague, a middle-aged man, describing his shock when he got in the elevator of his office building, located in the heart of liberal Greenwich Village in New York City. Scratched into the wall of the elevator was a large swastika.
Or one of my clients, a writer who comes to see me with his wife, describing how a friend of his–a natty dresser, who might have been mistaken for a gay man–was roughed up in a “safe” Brooklyn neighborhood by some thugs who talked about “the election”.
And I’m no stranger to these moods of anxiety and depression during these past couple of weeks. I’ve had quite a few moments of despair, gloom, and near panic. But I’ve also enjoyed fruitful and productive work, meaningful and nourishing conversations with friends and family and other sustaining moments of music, prayer, love and laughter. The practices of self-care that I’ve developed over a lifetime are coming in handy now. And, since this stressful period is likely to be a marathon, not a sprint, I thought I’d share what I know about maintaining well-being during life’s turbulent periods.
Amy B’s Recipe for Self-Care
- Allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling. Many people are experiencing grief reactions, mixed with anxiety about the future. Allowing for one’s feelings, acknowledging them, is a way of taking care of our feelings. I love Thich Nhat Hanh’s invitation to “take care of our feelings like a mother takes care of her crying baby. ” She doesn’t slap the baby, or fight with the baby. “Good morning my little depression, I will take good care of you.” This is a wonderful piece of wisdom. If we fight with our feelings, they tend to grow stronger. If we embrace them, they tend to soften under our tender loving care.
- Talk about your feelings. Get it out. Share with people who understand. One thing that’s different about this anxiety/depression is that it’s a community response. There are many, many, many of us who are suffering in the same way. Don’t be shy. Talk about it, as needed.
- Engage in meaningful work, if possible. This election, or any event in the world, does not define us. We all–every one of us–have special gifts and talents to contribute. Exercising these talents helps connect us to our true purpose, our higher selves. This can include professional work, being a parent, or anything that reflects one’s genuine self-expression.
- Speaking of exercise….Move that body. Our feelings are connected to the tension in our muscles and when we relieve our physical tensions, our mind and spirit seem to follow.
- Regular doses of alcoholic beverages. (Just kidding….sort of)
- Build in some play time: I’m a fan of non-goal-directed activity, otherwise known as “play”. Listen to music, read fiction, see some great art. Play ping-pong, cards, go dancing, crochet, etc. Whatever you’re drawn to, selfishly indulge!
- Connect with, or re-connect, with a spiritual practice. A solid spiritual practice is, I believe, is one of the most underrated anti-anxiety medications of all time. Modern living has disrupted our relationship with our ancestors, where we came from, and a connection to what is holy and eternal. A spiritual practice can take many forms. My own involves a daily Centering Prayer practice the first thing in the morning. (I can say more about that at one point.) But the benefits of a practice, in whatever form, tend to move us away from our naturally self-centered orientation, concerned with immediate events, toward a healing connection with an eternal, inclusive, historic perspective.
I’ll end with a quote from my favorite Bhuddist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. Thay, as he is called, grew up in Vietnam, where he became a monk and worked as a peace activist during the most dangerous years of the Vietnam war.
“Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see. Every breath we take, every step we take, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. The question is whether or not we are in touch with it. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life