When the World is Heavy: Ways to Stay Sane and Make a Difference When Everything Feels Terrible

Quote from Rob Hopkins’ “From What Is To What If”

Well friends, it’s hard to know where to start with everything that is going on in the world (which seems like a constant refrain the last couple of years). I don’t know about you but some days I just feel lost and completely overwhelmed by the number and enormity of the many issues we’re facing right now. And it’s hard to feel helpless when you care about the world.

I’m not going to go into the specifics of any of the problems that are causing me anxiety and upset at the moment because that’s a whole messy black hole of panic that no-one needs right now – you’ve got the news for all the bleak details! Instead, I want to share some of the things I’m doing to try and play even a small part in making the world a better place. They are only little things but sometimes that’s all we have. We do what we can, wherever we are, with what we have.

Find Community

“If we wait for governments it will be too late. If we act as individuals it will be too little. But if we act as communities it might just be enough and it might just be in time.”

Rob Hopkins – From What Is To What If

I’m currently Reading From What Is To What If by Rob Hopkins and the quote above really struck me as true. There is such power in community, so that’s the first and most important thing I want to encourage you to do. Find communities of people who share your passions and concerns. The challenges the world is facing are too heavy for anyone to carry alone but when we share the weight we can do so much.

I recently joined the pebble community, which I stumbled across when I was looking for ways I could proactively engage with efforts to combat the climate crisis. What started as an online magazine sharing tips for sustainable living has become a growing and thriving community of people who want to save our beautiful home planet. Whether you’re wanting to reduce food waste, find alternatives to fast fashion, or discover how to engage with everyday activism without getting overwhelmed, this lovely space has something to offer. It’s completely free to join as an individual but there is also a business network that you can take out a paid plan to join, so if you’re a business owner/exec and what to drive sustainable business practices then check that out too!

Another place I have found community recently is with the Women’s Equality Party. We all know that political engagement is an important part of making change happen – even though sometimes it might feel like our votes don’t matter, they really do. A political party may not seem like an obvious place to find a sense of community, especially if, like me, you find yourself despairing at the actions that occur all too frequently in mainstream politics. But WEP offers something different. In this party, I have found engaged and passionate people who want to effect real change – not just tweaking the systems we currently work within, but a radical transformation of how we live and work as a society, with equality at the heart of everything.

The party also recognises the importance of intersectionality, and whilst their founding principle is that of gender equality they actively campaign for equality across all protected characteristics, including race, sexuality, and disability. I’ve been a member of their Race Equality Caucus Allies (RECA) group for just over a year and in that time I have learnt so much and found ways to actively and positively engage with anti-racism work that I wouldn’t otherwise have done.

The party isn’t perfect by any means, but they are truly trying to do things differently. And, from my perspective, doing things differently is the only option we have if we want to truly address the challenges of our time.

Volunteer

I spent a lot of time volunteering when I was in my teens and early twenties, giving up most of my evenings and weekends to various groups. I loved it but that kind of commitment became too much as I started working full time and had a home of my own to look after. Fitting in volunteering around work and family life can feel like a real challenge but there are now more opportunities than ever to do this in a flexible and sustainable way. Particularly over the last 18 months when COVID-19 has restricted many of us to our homes, there has been a surge in opportunities for digital and remote volunteering – such opportunities make it far easier to volunteer around other commitments.

One project offering such opportunities is the End Sexism In Schools campaign. This project is doing what is says on the tin – working to end sexism in schools! That’s a BIG ask but the beauty of their campaign is that they are doing it one small specific step at a time. Their first project is a piece of crowdresearch exploring the gender balance of authors studied in KS3 English at school across England. Volunteers sign up on the website and contribute as much or as little time as they want – as little as 15 minutes! It can also be done whenever suits you. Squeeze it in during your lunch break or last thing at night, whenever works with your schedule. There are also opportunities to do things like contribute social media or blog content or, if you want to commit more time, get involved with one of their campaign sub-groups (got a particular interest in science or history? Help plan subject specific campaign actions with their strategy group!).

Digital volunteering is a great way to get involved with issues you care about in a way that fits with your lifestyle and schedule. Have a look around and see what’s going on in the areas you’re interested in.

Maintain Balance

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Audre Lorde

One of the hardest things to do when you care about lots of things and want to help is not getting overwhelmed by it all. It’s easy to fall into the trap of doom scrolling on Twitter or constantly consuming news coverage, and then ending up feeling like everything is terrible and nothing you do matters.

The first thing to do is to limit your consumption of the Bad News. I have recently switched on the ‘Downtime‘ function on my phone, which restricts access to the apps on my phone during a time period of my choosing. I’ve set it to kick in from 8pm until 8am every day. This helps in several ways:

  • Stops me from being on my phone all the time before I go to bed
  • Stops me being on my phone in the middle of the night if I can’t sleep
  • Stops me from reaching for my phone first thing in the morning

This limits my ability to doom scroll, means that I do other things that are better for me (like reading, writing, drawing and playing with my dog!) and has reduced my average screen time by nearly 2 hours a day(!!). Have some Nice Things on hand or planned as alternatives to scrolling (a good book, a bubble bath, build a den, make something with your hands) and this will help break that screen habit and reenergise you.

Limiting my consumption also allows me more capacity and energy to engage with positive actions. When I’m less weighed down by constant bad news, I feel more able to participate in volunteering activities, and even do little things like clearing out my closet and taking donations to the charity shop. There’s a better balance between input and output.

One conversation I’ve had with a few people recently, and that I’ve seen floating around on social media as well, is that it is a privilege to choose not to read and engage with what’s going on in the world. This of course is true. It is a privilege, and one not afforded to those who are living with the immediate reality of the news stories we’re witness to. But sometimes we do need to step away. Sometimes we do need to take a break from constantly consuming these stories. And the important thing to note is that there is a big difference between taking a break from constantly consuming the news and ignoring what is going on in the world.

Is taking a break a privilege? Yes. Does that make it wrong? No.

Constant consumption of bad news can have an incredibly negative impact on our mental and emotional health, and even our physical energy. By recognising when that consumption is negatively affecting us and choosing to step away for an hour, a day, a week, we can maintain and restore our energy, which then enables us to be more effective in our actions when we return. So take a break without feeling guilty. And then come back refreshed and ready to take action – however big or small that action might be.

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