Keep Calm and Carry On:
7 Sanity Tips for Tense Times

To call these nervous-making times is an understatement. Since the inauguration, we’ve been plunged in the midst of some of the most politically charged times in recent memory. Each day seems to bring more bad news—rising nuclear tensions, escalating xenophobia, concerns about security at home and abroad, the threat of environmental disaster. Rarely have we had to contend with so many mental stressors simultaneously.
The result? Many people are leaning heavily on prescription drugs and alcohol to help muddle through. That’s understandable to a point, but in the long run, the chemical approach introduces even more stressors into your life, undermines health and immunity when you need it most, and most worryingly, adds the very real possibility of dependence or addiction to your already overloaded mental-health plate.
So what’s the work-around? Focus on a few behaviors that support your mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional health. Here are a few sanity-saving ways to help yourself in a healthy way:

Start With a Calm Foundation

Getting yourself and the kids ready for work and school in the morning means, for many people, chaos, so the more you can do before bed to streamline your morning the better. To minimize the panic:

  • Start by rising a few minutes earlier to give yourself at least five to 10 minutes to meditate first thing. It’ll help you start the day in a healthy way—with a calmer nervous system, lowered blood pressure, and a less ratcheted-up frame of mind.
  • Before bed, prep breakfast and make lunches so there’s less hunting for ingredients in the morning. Have everyone in the family (yourself included) lay out clothes—right down to the socks, underwear, and shoes—so there’s no morning time lost making decisions or looking for missing pieces.

Another way to reduce morning stress? Keep blaring televisions and glowing screens off—they burn up precious morning minutes and add extra noise, distractions, and imagery that may be anything but calming. Discreetly check your phone if you must, but catch up on the news once you’re on the commuter train or in the office.

Don’t Get Ready to Rumble

Follow Thanksgiving table rules! For the foreseeable future, avoid getting into political debates with neighbors, relatives, and officemates. You’re probably not going to convince anyone to change their opinion—not in this polarized environment—and adding to the vitriol is no way to create positive change or reduce tensions. If you do find yourself in the middle of a verbal political fistfight, de-escalate by respectfully agreeing to disagree, table the discussion, and if need be, excuse yourself and walk away. Or, if you have politically obsessed people in your life, establish conversational boundaries. Give them a few minutes to speak their piece, then kindly tell them that it’s time to change the topic. (Remember, though, that you may need to say it politely more than once!)

Put Your Money—And Time—Where Your Mouth Is

The relentless stress of the current political upheaval can make you feel that you’re in a near-constant state of anxiety, powerless against waves of negative emotions. Even if you don’t normally suffer depression, you may find yourself in a deep funk. One way to combat it is by getting involved in a hands-on way with at least one organization that’s fighting for a cause you care about. Convenient as it is to click on a few Facebook petitions, you’ll get a lot more out of face-to-face contact with like-minded people, even if it’s just for an hour or two a week. For other groups that you care about but don’t have time to volunteer for, write a check to help support their efforts. Giving time and money will help you feel more involved, give you a greater sense of community, and help take the edge off feelings of powerlessness and anxiety. Everybody wins!

Allow Yourself to Tune Out

As I said back in November when many of my patients were reeling from the election results—and this may be even more pertinent today—turn off the social media fire hose or at least dial it way down. Stop filling up your head with the nonstop negative chatter and insults that make up so many Facebook and Twitter feeds these days. Stop indulging in the noise of the internet. Give yourself more quiet time, be it with meditation, prayer, a long swim or run, or whatever you like to do to unwind in a healthy way.

Get Quiet—Very Quiet

Been thinking about meditation forever but just haven’t gotten around to it yet? Then now is the perfect time to begin a meditation practice, either with a local meditation group or on your own. The one main advantage of a meditation group is that sense of committing to a regularly scheduled activity and the sense of community you get from sharing the experience, quiet as it may be. Another bonus of meditation, either in a group or on your own, is that the practice is supportive of heart and brain health, is a wonderful stress-reducer, and can help keep you on a more even keel emotionally. Think of it as the perfect escape valve that you can access anywhere, anytime tensions start to rise.

Get That Natural High

There are thousands of reasons to keep up your exercise routine, and for those struggling with our current state of political affairs, now you have one more! The silver lining to these tense times is that by engaging in a little more exercise, you’ll encourage better circulation, get your heart rate up, look better, feel better, and help trigger the release of endorphins, aka Mother Nature’s happy hormones. My advice? Get moving, and get that free, natural, good-for-you high.

Spread the Ubuntu—Everywhere!

When you are feeling depressed or angry, it’s easy to lash out at anyone who crosses your path—and that makes you a pretty rotten person to be around. Instead of lashing out, look inward and practice ubuntu, the concept that means, “I am because you are.” In other words, be conscious of how you treat others—and  interact with humanity and kindness. In those little moments of simple, positive connection, we have the power to spread good feelings, perhaps even to make someone’s day or even save a life, so indulge daily! Ubuntu helps build bridges between people instead of chasms—something the world needs most right now.

Power Down Your Engines

Another side effect of these sanity-compromising times is that feeling of being wound up all of the time, which can make you feel uptight all day and then sleepless at night. How to combat it? Take every opportunity to be kind to yourself and relax body and soul. Here are seven ways to help slow down your over-revving engines:

1. A hot bath before bed will relax muscles and raise your body temperature to prepare you for sleep.
2. If you exercise in the evenings, take a steam or sauna at the gym afterward.
3. Create an “electronic sundown” in the evenings, and shut off all screens at least two to three hours before bed.
4. At night, to aid the onset of sleep, try Be Well’s Sleep Bundle, or take a tablet or two of magnesium.
5. During the day, when you feel stress levels rise, try Be Well’s Stress Support formula to help take the edge off in a healthy way.
6. Use the money you might normally spend on a dinner out for a relaxing massage once a month.
7. Spend more time with those you truly love and those who bring you joy—and limit exposure to those whose presence has the opposite effect.
In the end, it’s all about finding the calm at the center of what for some of us may be a fairly long storm. Batten down the hatches, and find the combination of sanity-savers that works best for you.

Be Well Living with Sophia Ruan Gushée
Be Well Living with Holli Thompson