Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a voice of decency, civility, and moderation and a strong advocate for all people. She was especially passionate about women’s rights, and it is telling that her appointment as only the second woman to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States (after Justice Sandra Day O’Connor) was as late in our country’s history as 1993—nearly the 21st century! As American women keenly feel, misogyny is alive and well in what is boasted to be the greatest nation on Earth. A nation cannot be great that hates at least half its population (not even counting immigrants, non-whites, and LGTBQ folk). About her pursuit of women’s rights, she said:
It is not a women’s liberation; it is women’s and men’s liberation.
In other words, when women are more fairly represented in government, the workforce, and education, men will also benefit. The same goes for immigrants, non-whites, and LGTBQ folk. When we are all more fairly represented in all aspects of governance, work, and education, we all benefit.
Justice Ginsburg’s death is just one in a string of loss and difficulty in 2020. We are drowning and all we seem to get these days are more glasses of water—or a fire hose in the face. Environmental disasters, racial unrest, uncivil discourse, scandal, rogue politicians, grabbers and takers and people who don’t care about anybody else. It’s enough to make decent people want to isolate ourselves from the world. Oh, wait…!
Isn’t that typical? Just when we thought living the life of a hermit might be better than dealing with the world’s crap, we discover—first-hand—living in isolation doesn’t necessarily give us the peace we seek either.
The worst, though, is not knowing what the future brings. I’m not talking about next month or next year. I’m talking about tomorrow or even today. Reasonable people know that no one can accurately predict a specific future, and normally we’re fine with that. But nothing about 2020 has been normal, and none of us—despite claims to the contrary—knows what’s coming next, turning us all into a bundle of nerves. Even the coolest of cucumbers are suffering from the effects of long-term anxiety, whether they realize it or not.
Here’s where psychological first aid (PFA) comes in. To reduce stress, you must first know the signs so you can jump into action, just like you would if you needed to staunch a bleeding wound. Think of today’s stressors as bleeding from your emotional well-being.
Below I’ve summarized some tips from a September article in the Washington Post about PFA. You can also buy The Johns Hopkins Guide to Psychological First Aid, which is available from the Johns Hopkins University Press for $24.95.
“The prevalence of symptoms of an anxiety disorder was three times as high and symptoms of depression were four times as high in June 2020 than in the second quarter of 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the article states. An alarming statistic although hardly surprising.
So what is PFA? It’s recognizing states of anxiety or stress and tending to them to restore a sense of personal peace. You can apply PFA on yourself or others. Of particular concern now is the constant and prolonged effects of never-ending stress, which can haunt us for years to come in all kinds of ways.
Here are some summarized points from the Washington Post article:
- Get your basic needs met. We’re talking food and shelter. Eat healthily, drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol and other addictive substances as a means of coping with stress.
- Get exercise daily and a good night’s sleep as much as possible. You don’t need a gym membership; walking is free and it’s all you need. Yoga is good too, and if you can’t afford to pay for a class on Zoom, there are plenty of free online videos to guide you (think YouTube). Same goes for meditation apps and guides.
- Protect yourself from additional harm, both physical and emotional. I’ve been hearing stories about how isolation has been more dangerous for people in abusive relationships. Take advantage of social services. Honestly, I don’t know how one goes about getting out of an abusive home during these times, especially children and others with limited agency, but if you know anyone in this situation, and you feel safe doing so, please help them seek safety. Your emotional safety is also paramount. One thing you can stop doing is overloading yourself with news! Give yourself a break from the constant pummeling of bad news. Try going for one day without watching, reading, and or listening to the news.
- Give yourself permission to feel anxious and upset. Don’t ignore your troubled feelings; stuffing feelings never did anyone any good.
- When you start to feel anger or stress well up, stop and count to ten. Taking several deep breaths from your belly also helps move the harmful energy.
- Stop trying to keep everything under control and overdoing it. We’re overwhelmed enough without thinking we have to carry on with our regular to-do list and punishing ourselves when we “fail.” Set priorities for what is most important for you and those you may be responsible for now and leave it at that. Who cares if your yard has weeds or the kitchen floor needs mopping?
- Try to stay positive by focusing on what is good in your life right now. I find keeping a gratitude journal, that is, simply jotting down daily a few things you’re grateful for, feeds off its own goodness.
- Stay connected with your support network. Pick up the phone or jump online for a wellness check-in and a chat. I call my mom every morning, which helps me stay centered, reminds me how grateful I am for her, and makes me feel good knowing that she appreciates my calls. Our 15-minute chats help us both start our day, and the acknowledgment of the love we have for each other keeps us going throughout the day. Because we can’t see each in person, these calls are a lifeline for us.
- Listen when someone else is distressed and offer some of the tips listed here as a means to cope. Let others know you understand and use supportive words and phrases to give them a boost.
Be sure to get the self-care you need and be well.