Recent violence, abroad and closer to home, affects all of us. It is natural and reasonable to feel anger, sorrow, despair, fear, powerlessness, defensiveness, frustration, confusion, hopelessness and/or numbness in response to the national and international climate and continued acts of aggression, oppression and brutality. The University Counseling Center recognizes the emotional toll that these events take on our students as individuals and our community as a whole and we are here to help without judgement, assumptions or bias. If you need a safe space to process, or if you want assistance coping, please schedule an appointment.
The UCC acknowledges the continued work of self-reflection, accountability, and openness to others necessary to create a community of inclusiveness, dignity and compassion. As such, we are committed to helping you on this journey, and committed to our own work towards intercultural competency. Please know that you are not alone, and that we are here to listen and to support you.
If you’re feeling heartbroken right now, try connecting with loved ones who you can be honest with. This may be the time to take a risk and open up to people you want to become closer to. In times of grief and fear, community can provide comfort, safety, guidance, and a sense that even if we are suffering we are not alone in our emotions or our hopes for the world.
One thing that can help us feel connected, even if we are not surrounded by family or friends, is listening to speeches or lectures of spiritual or political leaders who we believe in. This might look like watching a documentary about an inspiring figure. It could also look like reading a spiritual text that connects you to your values, a memoir of a role model, or a pamphlet from a political organization whose mission you connect with.
How to get some space
Rage, confusion, sadness, and helplessness are some common emotions associated with grief. The important thing to remember is that whatever you’re feeling right now, no matter how intense, is both a valid response to what is going on and is temporary. It’s important to work to sit with big feelings without judgement, but if you’re beginning to feel overwhelmed and need to ground yourself you can work to move into a different emotional space by:
- Shifting your attention
- Sit in a comfortable and calm place. Here, you will engage your sense of sight. Look around and slowly begin to name and notice in detail five things that you can see that are the color green. Spend some time carefully looking at each object. Then, slowly begin to identify four things that are blue, noticing them in detail as well. Continue this process by noticing three things that are brown, two things that are pink, and one thing that is yellow.
- Sit in a comfortable and calm place. Here you will engage all five senses. Look around and slowly begin to name and notice in detail five things that you can see. Spend some time looking at their color, texture, and volume. Then, bring your attention to your sense of touch. Notice four things your body is touching. Note the pressure being exerted, the texture, and the quality of these feelings. Continue this process with noticing three things you hear, two things you smell, and one thing you taste. As you do this, try to notice, in detail, the qualities of these experiences of sound, smell, and taste.
- Relaxing your muscles
- When we experience psychological stress our muscles become tense and their physical tension can prolong our experience of stress and discomfort. To stop this feedback loop you can work to intentionally relax your muscles by engaging in progressive muscle relaxation. For a guided experience of progressive muscle relaxation, click here.
- Engaging your capacity for care, compassion, and bonding
- When we engage in activities that involve care, compassion, and bonding we can experience a reduction in blood pressure and stress hormones like cortisol.
- Engaging care could look like wrapping yourself up in a soft blanket to simulate soft touch on your skin, having someone braid or comb your hair, watching videos of baby animals (sound off), or calling a friend to meet up or talk on the phone.
The more you practice grounding yourself in your body, relieving built up tension, and engaging your capacity for connection the easier it will be to call upon these skills in times of tenderness and overwhelm.
While anger and helplessness might sound like vastly different experiences, they can be closely connected. When we are overwhelmed by injustice, violated, or frightened we can be left feeling helpless and hopeless. Sometimes our minds transform our sense of helplessness into anger, which is an energizing emotional and physiological state that motivates us to act to change our environment. If we get angry about something, that usually means we want something to change. Identifying what you want to change and working toward that can be a helpful way to respect your anger and live in accordance with your values.
If you’re feeling helpless or furious right now, try channeling your energy into making change that is within your control. That could look like:
- Going for a walk to clear your head
- Attending a protest
- Calling to check on a friend and improve their wellbeing
- Donating to an organization that shares your values
- Sharing an educational article with your loved ones and discussing it with them
- Writing a song that might provide comfort to others in pain
While taking political action is a powerful way to live your values and boost a sense of self-efficacy, it can also feel overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. Getting connected to a socially-engaged community or engaging your friends in social action can be a great way to have a forum to process, gain comfort and security, and continue to develop strategies to live in alignment with your values.
Part of self care is preventing harm in the first place. If you are protesting in the streets, consult these safe protesting tips provided by Amnesty International.
How to get some space
It’s also possible that you might need to rest. Even if we have time and space to rest it can be hard to rest if our bodies are feeling activated. If you’re noticing your body is too tense or you’re too energized to relax, your body may be in fight/flight mode. Our bodies enter fight/flight mode when they sense that there is a threat in the environment. Grounding can help teach the body that there is no immediate danger to your physical safety. Sometimes, when the body is too activated, grounding is not enough to convince the body there is no threat in the environment. To switch out of fight/flight mode, first try engaging in the grounding techniques listed above.
If your nervous system is too activated to relax into those activities, vigorous physical activity can satisfy your body’s desire to engage in flight/flight behaviors and calm activity afterwards can cue your body that you are no longer presented with a threat. This method is only appropriate if you can safely engage in vigorous physical activity. Try this series of actions to calm your body down in preparation for rest:
- To engage your body in the fight/flight behaviors it’s wanting, you can do jumping jacks or run with high knees in pace for two minutes. You can also go for a run or engage in any activity that brings up your heart rate and simulates the experience of running.
- After you’ve elevated your heart rate by engaging your muscles, stop and begin to breathe deeply for about two minutes. This will signal to your body that you have completed the “flight” it was primed for and this completion will cue your body to begin to calm down.
- After engaging in deep breathing for a few minutes engage in the grounding activities listed above to continue signaling to your body to remain calm.
Completing the above regime can help you calm down enough to prepare to relax more deeply during periods of rest.
If you’re called to pour yourself into social change work right now and feel a combination of urgent and drained, remember that the fight for justice is a life-long one and you are on a team of individuals all working together for a similar goal. This means that if you are tired you can take a break and pick back up when you are recharged. Taking a break is not the same thing as giving up. Knowing your limits will allow you to respect yourself and not overstep your boundaries to extract work from yourself without care for your wellbeing.
Refusing to extract from yourself when possible and respecting your dignity is a part of living anti-racist, feminist, and environmentalist values. In other words, part of practicing care and concern for the world is practicing care and concern for yourself. Your wellbeing is also good for your mission: maintaining boundaries makes working for change more sustainable in the long run. Finding a community of people who are committed to action toward similar values and goals can help you feel reassured that if you take a break to rest you will continue to be connected to social change work.
For students of color
Here are some resources specifically geared toward BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) experiences of mental health and coping with racial trauma.
For students who are politically engaged
The War in Ukraine
The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has become an omnipresent stressor for many of us at Loyola University. Whether you are from Ukraine, or from Russia, or glued to the daily news cycle, you might be experiencing increased feelings of distress. This might look like worried thoughts, trouble sleeping, increased sadness, fatigue, stomach aches, or muscle tension – to name a few stress indicators. You are not alone in these feelings. Here are some resources for those dealing with stress :
- From the American Psychological Association (APA): Statement and Resources on the Impact of the War in Ukraine
- From University of Michigan: Stressed by what’s going on in Ukraine? How to cope - And how to help
Self-care tips for the dealing with the stressful news cycle:
- From NPR: How to cope with the stressful news cycle
- Psychology Today: 7 types of self-care