What to do when the world seems to be falling apart

Practically everywhere you look, there’s a headline or article lead that tells us how the world is, apparently, utterly falling apart. The reboot of fascism, the changing climate, inequality that is only getting worse—it’s enough to make anyone want to hide under the covers and never come out again.

If you’re disturbed by what’s happening in the world today, that’s actually great! Noticing where things are going wrong is the first step to getting them sorted out. Psychological research tends to show that, in order to want to work for change on a given issue, it first has to affect us. That impact also has to create enough discomfort that changing things feels better than staying with the status quo. However, where does that leave you if you’re simply overwhelmed by what’s happening and have no idea what to do about it?

First, take stock of what is truly important to you, as well as honestly assessing your skill sets and available time. The struggle for change is long and has many, many moving parts. Think of it as a bicycle. Everything has to stay in working condition for it to work together successfully. 

Look for existing organizations already doing the work, and go in prepared to learn and share your ideas. Working together also builds community: doing so not only encourages building interpersonal relationships, it also provides you with a circle of like-minded people.

Talk about what you are seeing and/or experiencing with others. To use the example of climate change, our health and wellbeing is directly affected by our environment, and the changing climate is changing that relationship. It doesn’t take a lot of letters behind anyone’s name to figure out that we’ve been very, very lucky with our environments, for the most part. If you care about your insurance rates not going up, it follows that you’ll care about trying to limit the amount of extreme weather events likely to happen. Extreme weather events are made worse by rapidly changing conditions in our climate. Now, if insurance rates go down because we’ve acted to decrease climate change, isn’t that a bonus for everyone?

So, where exactly should someone start? That depends on what is most important to them. The best advice I ever got for how to make sure you’ll be able to continue caring about something after the initial excitement has worn off was this: find something that makes you feel either “blissed or p*ssed.” 

Remember that pushing for change is a marathon, not a sprint. None of our systems got to this point overnight, and ongoing work is needed to not only shift frameworks, but also to keep them adaptable to different and changing needs.

Whether you’re working to keep and/or expand something beneficial or stop harm, emotional engagement is one key to sustaining our ability to do it on an ongoing basis. This is especially important when working on a complex issue or toward a long-term goal. It doesn’t matter if your action is consciousness-raising by pointing out issues and sharing information, or if you’re personally leading the charge for systemic change: you have to care about it for it to be meaningful.

When feeling overwhelmed or stuck, first things first: if you haven’t or can’t remember doing so, eat. Even just a cracker or two. Have a glass of water. Making sure your body’s needs are met is the first step to doing anything else. If you’re able to go outside and enjoy some green space, do so. Touch some grass or leaves and be reminded of the beauty of the world, and invite others to share it with you. 

Remember, you’re not single-handedly responsible for saving the world today—nor tomorrow, either. Asking for help and listening to what others need is part of the process. Building community is important. Humans are social creatures, and feeling connected to others will help improve your resiliency. Remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint!

Featured Image: Change is a long process, and it’s important to be emotionally engaged. | Pixabay