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Getting stuck in Sadness

The news has been a lot this week. Here in NSW there’s been some devastating events that have stayed with me.

What do we do with the way the news affects us? How do we avoid getting stuck in sadness and the heaviness of tragedies when they can feel so close to home?

I’ve had to put a few things in place to support me so I don’t get weighed down and find myself revisiting images while I’m going to sleep. Also, so I don’t get caught up in imagining the events happening to me or my loved ones.

It’s very natural and very human to feel sadness when we witness tragedy. Empathy is a powerful connector of people. I can observe this empathy in me and accept that is part of who I am, I naturally feel deeply and connect with others’ pain. If this empathy goes too far it can become burnout and I can get stuck there. So I try and let it become compassion, action-oriented. If there’s nothing practical I can do, I create a ritual, light a candle, imagine sending my love and hope to the people in pain.

Importantly, I also have to stop intrusive thoughts in their tracks. If I find myself imagining the event happening to me or the people I love, I practice distracting myself, especially if it’s night time and I’m trying to sleep.

I touch something material, I turn the light on, splash my face with water, stretch, make a hot drink.

I ground myself in the present moment. I breathe deeply with a longer exhale, listen to a safe playlist, pat my cat, watch cooking videos. I have to have these tools ready otherwise I’m catastrophising and breathless, panicky and full of fear. My nervous system is reacting to the event as though it’s happening to me.

We often think a big emotional reaction needs to be met with a big counter-solution. But it’s the small, gentle tools that bring us home to ourselves. We have more power than we know.

I also want to say that while it may seem obvious, there is no shame in awful things happening to us. They’re not a curse or punishment or an indication that you have done anything wrong. This can be confusing in our #Blessed socially curated culture. There can be an attitude of self-righteousness around other people’s suffering, like they must have done something wrong or moved to the wrong side of town, married the wrong person, made poor decisions to be afflicted with the thing that seems unimaginable to those not suffering in this way. It’s a type of pearl clutching that’s perhaps a projection of fear that it could happen to anyone, could happen the them. And, often we’re looking for someone or something to blame, to try and make sense of something senseless.

But we all suffer, some just more publicly than others.

As always, practice self-compassion, be kind to yourself, bring yourself back into the moment and breathe.

Go gently.

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