I have recently noticed a trend in the way friends, family, and colleagues are responding to current troubling events. For many people, there appears to be a conflict in processing, discussing and responding to “big” things while still enjoying, focusing on, and being “small” things. What I mean by “big” things are world events: the violence hapening in our country, war, new diseases and epidemics, etc. “Small” things are our day to day pleasures: stopping to smell the flowers, playing card games with family, reading a novel, etc.
I have noticed a pattern of individuals exerting all of their emotional energy on the “big” things and letting the “small” things fall by the wayside. These “big” ideas and events can elicit anger, confusion, and fear. Whatever the event, whatever the emotion, it can be a lot to feel at once and saving room for more can seem daunting.
Technology has changed the amount of information we are exposed to. As humans we have the ability to empathize with others, but for thousands of years we have only had to carry the heartaches and burdens of our own small communities. With the development of radio, TV, and now the internet and social media, our small town communities have expanded to include the global population in just a few hundred years and our emotional development cannot keep up.
People have described to me a decrease in focus or even feelings of guilt when it comes to participating in “small” personal activities. I have heard statements such as, “How can I enjoy a party, when innocent people are being killed in my own city.” People are describing feeling the pain of strangers and becoming “burnt out,” just from watching the news.
Being able to turn off or turn down the negativity temporarily so you can be focused in the present moment is a skill that can help prevent burn out and help maintain your happiness and quality of life even in trying times. Like any skill, it can be learned, practiced, and improved upon. It can also be neglected and forgotten. We have the capacity to hold dual, conflicting emotions at the same time. We are able to feel heartache and love in the same moment. We are able to be compassionate towards others and also take care of ourselves. We are able to hold both the “big” things and the “small” things.
Practicing self-love and self-care does not mean you are ignoring or enabling the issues that need to be addressed. You can be an activist in the midst of national crisis or on the front lines of research to cure cancer and still take a hot bubble bath, read your child a book, and lay in the grass and soak up the sun.
If you are experiencing overwhelming negativity from the “big” things, I encourage you to focus on and foster the “small” pleasures. Practice being present in the moment. Spend more time with friends and family. Take breaks from social media. Give yourself permission to tune out world events, for a little while, and focus on yourself. Practicing this self-care and finding presence in your everyday life will allow you to refuel and come back stronger to take on the “big” things.
Kaitlin Thompson is a psychotherapist at Freestone Psychotherapy. You can learn more about Kaitlin and how to contact her here.
photo source: flickr