Since the election, there has been a constant, almost daily, stream of unexpected decisions, enormous conflict, multiple marches protests/ demonstrations, and subsequent chaos. For many people, it has reached a point of overload. They go to bed with their heads still spinning from the daily events, the evening news, or the cable talking heads. They yearn for a bit of relief, a few moments of peace, and a reduction in their own emotional turmoil.
I’ve always viewed life as shaped like an ice cream cone. You stand at the very bottom of the cone. Right above you, there is your family and closest friends. Above them, there are your classmates or your work cohorts. Above that larger group, there is your neighborhood and your community, all expanding outward. At the top of the cone, as you progress upward, there is our national and global world. Today, the top of the cone tasty like ice cream; it looks more and more like the ocean – with us caught in the perfect storm.
Each one of us can choose where we want to spend our time and effort in that cone. We can move up and down inside that cone, resting at any level. How much of your time do you want spent at the top of the cone, directly involved in the conflict and chaos. Yes, you get a chance to add your voice to the chorus. But beware: it only works if you can withstand the stress. And remember: by participating in that top level, you are contributing to the turbulent waves, not reducing them. At the same time, your own emotional health may be paying a price.
I am not an advocate of nonparticipation. Instead, I am an advocate of balanced participation. More importantly, I am a believer that you change the content at the top from the bottom up. Just as you live life from the inside out. As you think, so shall you be. You are what you repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act: it’s a habit. I short, try working on yourself before you flail about at the top, mostly submerged by those waves. Improve yourself. Spend time with your family and friends. Then work on helping others.
It’s an old surfing tip. When the waves come crashing down on you, what do you do? You dive lower and lower. The deeper your depth, the less you feel the turbulence of the crashing waves above you. If you stay down, letting the series of waves sweep past you, you can wait to resurface, catching the lull between the sets of waves. When the surf is up, when the waves are rough, and when the wind/ current are against you, that’s how you survive.
In the real world, we can do so much the same – and we can do much more. Once we are down at the bottom, we can work on ourselves, making ourselves better people. More tolerant. More inclusive. More centered. More balanced. More loving. Built with better habits. Once rebuilt and strengthened, we can shift our focus from ourselves to our family and friends, helping ourselves to reshape our personal world. After all, isn’t that how we all feel better? By spending time with – and helping – our family and friends, not just by helping ourselves?
So, to reduce stress, we must start by asking ourselves: When did we last help a family member? A friend? A neighbor? Or even a stranger? That should become a daily habit. We need it. The world needs it. We can feel better – with much less stress – if we focus on helping someone in our personal world rather than trying to impact change at the top. If we focus too much on the top, our actions are often loss in the chaos. In the lower regions of our personal life, our actions are not lost. We can improve a friend’s emotional state. We can uplift a cohort with a compliment. We can help a stranger with just a smile.
If each one of us focuses on our own small personal worlds – making our personal worlds more positive, less stressful, and more loving – then the positive shift in these collective personal worlds will expand upwards. We can’t calm the top if we have internal chaos within ourselves or within our own personal worlds. Our small worlds are the building blocks. Sometimes those small building blocks have more influence than any loud outcry at the top, especially if done correctly.
So, here is my solution for our shared post-election stress. Go ahead and participate in our national debate, but only participate from time to time. In between those “participations”, let’s give ourselves a break from the news coverage. Let’s give ourselves a break from the TV talking heads. Let’s ourselves a break from all that stress. Instead, let’s shift our focus away from the discord toward personal growth and personal contact. Focus on making our personal world better, even if the above world remains turbulent.
Over time, try to expand your positive, uplifting influence. From yourself to your family to your friends to your classmates / work cohorts. Once successful, try to expand your positive, uplifting influence to a wider and wider circle, slowly moving upward in the expanding cone of life. When you eventually reach the top, you will have a steadier, stronger voice – a voice that is not so easily lost in the chaos.
Bob Dylan once sang about finding shelter in the storm. Maybe that’s what we all need right now is a period of shelter. A period of rejuvenation and repair. It’s true for individuals; it’s true in relationships; and it’s true for the world. We don’t need more shouting voices. We don’t need more daily chaos. We need some quiet time to regroup. And that’s true whether you are a Democrat or Republican. On either side of the aisle, it’s time for a real pause, a personal pause.
Who knows, by the time we repair ourselves and reach the top, the waves and turbulence might be slightly diminished. We might find someone who will listen and converse with civility. Let’s face it. We cannot become skilled navigators without some choppy waves. But more importantly, we cannot find our own destination without some wind at our back. Wait for the shift in the wind. Wait for a real chance for success. In the meantime, get stronger. Become better. Make our personal world warmer and safe. Now, isn’t that a better starting point?
Want to give it a try?
Just to reduce your stress …