We are exposed to many negative and scary stories on a daily basis – in the news, on social media, and other people’s stories of mishaps and misfortune. Everything can be on a pretty even keel in your life, but once you turn on the 24-hour news channels and expose yourself to news about the escalation in gun violence and murders, protests, injustices, deaths, etc., the feeling of balance can dissipate.
Back in April, I watched the live broadcast of the multi-week trial involving ex-police officer Derek Chauvin who has now been convicted of the murder of George Floyd. What I didn’t get to see live, I watched on recap videos. It was a difficult three weeks of watching the video of Mr. Floyd being tortured and taking his last breath. Yet, I was determined to stay informed about each and every detail. Why? Because this time, like so many other times …when it got to the end and we were once again disappointed at no justice, I would at least be able to piece it together in my head as to why. Yes, I expected to be disappointed, which is sad all by itself. Ultimately, justice was served…bittersweet justice that only scratches the surface of the real justice that’s required. As you’re reading this, Mr. Chauvin will have already been sentenced; sentencing is scheduled for June 25. According to the news, he faces a 30-year sentence, but again…I am skeptical that he will receive the max.
I have a son, who is driving and moving and shaking like he’s supposed to at 19 years of age. Truthfully, I’m terrified each and every time he walks out of the door and I don’t relax again until he returns home. When I watch and hear the stories of any shooting or murder of young people, of Black men, by any perpetrator, not just the police – no matter how hard I try, I internalize grief and fear connected to the incident. It’s as if what I’m seeing and hearing happened to me. The whole thing presents a level of stress that’s an ugly undercurrent to daily life.
If you took a psychology class in school, you most assuredly learned that if you are faced with a dangerous situation, your body goes into a flight or fight mode – you run or you defend yourself. Emotional shock is another response to a traumatic event. Of course, this speaks to a real event that actually happens to you. But what about the stress and fear that arises from unrealistic events – those you put yourself into that aren’t really happening to you? In those instances, our body reacts just as, or almost the same as, a real event – the adrenaline rush of flight or fight. Imagine doing that over and over – fight or flight, then recovery, then repeat.
Putting ourselves in this position is toxic to our lives, and toxic to our health. It’s also toxic to our minds – the more fear you create for yourself, the more narrow your life becomes. By focusing on the fear of things you can’t control – that aren’t even happening directly to you – will eventually negatively impact the quality of your life. “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage” – Anaïs Nin.
So, what to do?
Focus on the present. Take a break from the news – turn the tv off for as long as you need to. Take a social media break. Distance yourself from negative people. Surround yourself with laughter, nature, replenish your soul with good things! Play music and dance. Take a bubble bath, watch The Kings of Comedy (my go-to!), try a new hobby, read a book.
When I look at my son, I’ve got to choose to “see” him today – he’s funny, smart, handsome and he keeps me young! Why would I want to miss all that goodness each day by obsessively focusing on what could happen to him out in this world? It is a choice that I have to make for myself. We – you and I – are the masters of our thoughts and surroundings – what we let in is our choice. We can’t afford to live our lives in an abyss of fear; live for today – it’s enough. Tomorrow will take care of itself.