10 Ways to Keep From Falling Apart When the World Seems to Be Doing Just That

Philly-area therapists share strategies for taking care of your mental and emotional health during turbulent times.

Tend to your mental and emotional health with these strategies from Philly-area therapists. / Illustration via Getty Images.

If we’re being honest, life as of late has felt like a nonstop series of unfortunate events. As if you don’t need reminding, the United States is seeing a seemingly never-ending pandemic, a monkeypox outbreak, the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, a national baby formula shortage, and mass gun violence that policy leaders continuously fail to rectify. And that’s all on top of the personal difficulties each of us lives with, often silently.

When multiple stressful situations occur around the same time, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed, upset, angry, and uneasy. That’s why we turned to five Philly-area therapists for their recommendations for tending to your mental and emotional health when the world feels like it has gone to hell in a handbasket. Below, 10 strategies they offer to help.

Identify your feelings.

Putting language to our feelings is the first step to coping with them, says Easin Beck, licensed marriage and family therapist at their eponymous practice in Phoenixville. If you have trouble identifying your feelings, use the Feelings Wheel, or try finding a piece of music, writing, or lyrics that represent how you feel. Then, acknowledge that feeling without judgment: “I am feeling [overwhelmed, numb, sad, angry, etc.] right now. I’m allowed to feel [overwhelmed, numb, sad, angry, etc].”

Take account of what is in your control.

When so many things feel out of your control, it’s important to remember what is, says Catherine Herling, licensed marriage and family therapist at local practice A Better Life Therapy. “Dialectical behavior therapy discusses how, in order to reduce suffering, one must accept what is outside of your control without excusing what has occurred. Relinquishing the power distressing situations have over you allows you to think about ways you can make the world a better place, like how volunteering your time or resources gives you the ability to produce measurable change in your community and emotionally recharge from the sense of helplessness.”

Practice mindfulness.

“When the world around us feels out of control and chaotic, taking a highly concentrated focus on the present moment — from the movement of our toes to the beating of our hearts — can not only increase our sense of control but also slow down a racing heart beat and increase oxygen flow,” says Brynn Cicippio, licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of BCA Therapy in Wayne. She recommends these mindfulness-based stress reduction guided practices from Jefferson Health to help you get started.

Be aware of your social media usage and screen time.

“Social media can be great in allowing people to stay abreast of issues and news that impact our everyday lives, but it’s also important to know when you’ve reached your max in constantly taking in what can oftentimes be anxiety-provoking stimuli,” says Alanna Gardner, licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of AG Wellness.

Doing so can help limit levels of doomscrolling, or the tendency to compulsively scroll through negative or upsetting news. Herling says doomscrolling leads to “fixating and ruminating on all of the wrongs in the world, which can cause spiraling and feeling powerless.” And while being in touch with domestic and global affairs allows us to be aware of our surroundings and more informed citizens, overwhelming ourselves “with all of the hurt in the world will not make the world a better place,” Herling adds.

To help you decrease your screen time, Beck suggests using apps that track the amount of time you’re using your phone (Instagram has a built-in activity monitor) and scheduling “screen free” times throughout your day like you would for a work meeting or appointment. When it comes to comments sections on social platforms, remember that you “don’t have to show up to every argument you are invited to,” Beck says. As for doomscrolling, Herling recommends reducing or completely removing news-related alerts and apps on your phone, then noticing how it impacts your overall emotional state.

Get in tune with nature.

Being with and in nature can help recalibrate and calm our nervous systems after the constant stimulation of bad news, inciting social media posts and chaotic city living, says Gardner. Victoria Moon, community engagement specialist and psychotherapist at Oshun Family Center in Jenkintown, agrees, adding that we can learn a lot from the four elements: “Water reminds you that things will continue to flow no matter which rocks or obstacles interfere. Moving your body to your favorite song to the point where your arms are tingling is the fire that naturally exists within you. Placing your feet into the grass and connecting with the earth is a way of rooting you with your environment and confirmation that you are here purposefully. Set aside two minutes before you start your day to fill your body with intentional air as part of your breathwork.”

Move your body.

If you are feeling angry about recent events, you are not alone. According to Beck, anger is a protective emotion — a siren reminding us that something we care deeply about is at risk. To help channel anger in the short-term, our experts agree that physical activity — going for a run, practicing yoga, walking your dog — is a great outlet and can help mitigate prolonged exhaustion.

Engage your support system …

When we have a support system that is aligned with our values and beliefs, it can feel easy and often tempting to just dive into conversation, Cicippio says. And yet, our supports and ourselves are permitted to take breaks from these hard talks. Ask your support system if and when they have the space or capacity to talk before assuming. Doing so, she says, can help increase the empathy you feel and the care and consideration you give, thus increasing the sense of closeness in your community.

… and be in community with them …

“It’s incredibly powerful to feel seen by others emotionally, so connecting with people who share the same concerns as you can be incredibly validating,” Gardner says. “Whether that’s through participating in community meetings, attending group therapy or contributing to an organization, you’ll walk away feeling less isolated, and mobilizing as a group to take steps towards making impactful change around the issues that you’re collectively concerned about.”

… but also set boundaries with healthy intentions.

There might be people in your life who have differing perspectives from your own, and those who are not open to hearing your perspective, says Herling. “With a loved one, you might feel that you need to change their mind so they can be a better person. However, there are times where having these conversations will only lead to hurt and frustration for yourself and the other person. Ask yourself, ‘Will this conversation with this person be productive?’ and make the decision to either stop the conversation before conflict arises or grow with another person.”

Turn insight into action.

Turn your feelings of anger, sadness, or helplessness into impactful change by aligning yourself with an organization that shares your values. Gardner suggests pinpointing the skills and resources you already have in order to contribute, then identifying organizations for which you can assist. Beck advocates this, as well, adding that attending protests (if you’re able) can be a powerful form of visibility and donating to a reputable organization (like these lesser-known abortion funds) can help forward a cause.

Ed. Note: Talking with a therapist can be a great way to develop coping strategies specific to your needs. For resources on finding a therapist in the Philadelphia area, click here and here and here.