Adapting to Change

Finding joy in the new normal

Iwake up in my warm, comfortable house and hear the familiar sounds of family and pets stirring. I smell coffee brewing and listen to the neighborhood birds as the sun rises and my day starts. Then I remember—and heaviness sets into my heart. 

I turn on the news. I empathize as I try to comprehend the loss of the people experiencing the devastation of the war in Ukraine. I see a girl on the screen around the age of my granddaughter, wrapped in a torn, dirty blanket. She’s crying and looking around frantically for help. Tears come, and I know that I have to turn off the images, re-group and get ready for work. 

Work doesn’t offer much escape from those emotions, because I work with survivors of trauma. My clients are survivors of extreme circumstances and violations, as well as sudden or devastating life changes, losses, rejections and disappointments. And while I can’t impact lives in Ukraine, here in Amarillo I can help someone find healing. I can point them to the path toward feeling better. 

Think of some of the trials this world has faced in the past few years. We’ve been through two-plus years of the COVID-19 pandemic. This gave us an opportunity to practice gratitude for the small things—such as a decent supply of paper goods—as well as the big things, like having in-person contact with family and friends without fear. For so many, the pandemic has transformed our perspectives on life and connected us to the world in new ways. We can’t hide from the changes around us, but we can grow stronger and more resilient when we recognize them and choose to embrace them. This is part of our path toward finding joy in this new normal.  

The researcher and psychologist Nilufar Ahmed points out that, even though a situation like the war in Ukraine is far away, it can still impact our mental health. This is due to our innate response to fear and danger. Our brains are wired to protect us, so even a short exposure to difficult news or images can trigger the fight, flight or freeze response. This protective instinct leaves us on high alert and increases anxiety and stress. 

That’s why humans are drawn to news that creates negative emotions. Staying up-to-date on current situations can feel like a form of protection, even if experts advise us to avoid doom-scrolling or fixating too much on the news.

Here are some ways to cope with stress and anxiety while staying aware of current news and events:

Acknowledge your feelings. Despite our distance from Ukraine, for example, it does not help to minimize or invalidate your own emotions. Talking with others and naming your thoughts and feelings may help you more than dismissing them as irrational. Don’t worry about having mixed feelings, either—like being grateful that you are safe and sad that others aren’t.  

Engage with your feelings. In trauma work, we often identify triggers that are connected to personal experiences where we feel helplessness, fear or lack of control. Hearing about the pandemic or news and images from Ukraine can trigger these memories and thoughts. It’s important to get grounded. Express your feelings rather than ignoring them. Decrease stress and anxiety by reminding yourself that you are OK, you are not alone, and you are managing life in the moment.  

Take action. Are there any practical things you can do to help? Pay attention to these options, such as donating toward a fundraiser, checking in with a friend or family member who might be struggling, or being creative through songwriting, poetry or art. Doing something proactive with your feelings can diminish the intensity of your emotions and help you cope.  

Set limits and prioritize. It’s not always a good idea to ignore the news altogether, so give yourself boundaries, like avoiding the news right before bed and immediately after you wake up in the morning. Increased alertness in the brain at these times can actually make stress worse. Remember that sleep, nutrition and exercise are keys to both physical and mental health. Taking time to breathe, pray, engage with nature, spend time with a pet, move your body or express yourself through creativity can help build resilience and a more positive mindset.  

Adapting to change is a constant in our lives, and so much is unpredictable at this moment in history. Finding ways to care for yourself and others is the key. 

Author

  • Tricia is a Licensed Professional Counselor and works with clients of all ages at Family Support Services of Amarillo. She graduated from West Texas A&M University with her master’s degree in counseling and a Bachelor of Music in Music Therapy. She has worked in the field of mental health for more than 30 years. Tricia has a special interest in using the expressive arts in the healing process.