Most people with emotional overexcitability care passionately about making the world a better place. But if we’re not careful, our acute sensitivity to injustice and tragedy can leave us flooded by negative emotion.
So how do we find out what’s going on in the world so we can contribute positively without feeling overwhelmed? And how do we teach our sensitive children to find their balance?
One evening last week my 11-year-old son came to me in tears.
“I keep thinking our plane’s going to crash or the boat’s going to sink when we go on holiday.”
Despite his imaginational and emotional OE, Jasper isn’t prone to these kind of worries, so I was curious what had triggered him. He told me that after we upgraded his computer to Windows 10, world news stories had begun appearing automatically on his home screen. (“I see all the murders – everywhere!”)
I wonder if the reason Jasper hadn’t got anxious before is because I stopped following the news a long time ago.
I figure that if anything’s that important I’ll hear about it somehow. I see newspaper headlines at petrol stations and subtitled news programmes at the gym, and every fortnight I read the kids’ newspaper NewsAdemic.
I inform myself politically before I vote, I research which charities to support, and I counter the media’s distorted emphasis on tragedy by subscribing to the Good News Network.
The world needs all kinds of people
Some people can deal with life dispassionately and logically. They aren’t overwhelmed by their negative emotions, even when they look directly at tragic situations. Does that make them bad, uncaring people? Of course not. Society needs people who can respond to crises quickly and practically.
And the world also needs the people who are so sensitive and empathic, whose compassion runs so deep that it takes them a while to find their emotional equilibrium when bad things happen.
How do we find our balance?
Here’s my approach:
(1) Be careful what you’re exposed to. If watching the news on TV leaves you so stressed that you shout at your kids, don’t watch it. If reading the headlines depresses and drains you, don’t read them. We’re no good to anyone – our families or the wider world – if we don’t take care of our own emotional wellbeing.
(2) Have strategies to help you recover when you’re triggered by upsetting events you read or hear about. Go somewhere green for a walk, watch your favourite comedy show, meditate, chat with an upbeat friend or read a funny novel – whatever works for you.
I’m not suggesting we slap a happy face sticker over our empty fuel tanks. We need to acknowledge and be present to our negative emotions. But we also need to know when and how to reach for better feelings.
(3) Increase your resilience by doing things that nurture your emotional wellbeing as part of your daily routine.
(4) Seek out a life philosophy that helps you make sense of the world. Whether it’s mindfulness, a spiritual faith, transforming pain into art, or finding solace and wisdom in a book – keep searching for what works for you.
Model a powerful outlook to children
I started writing this post to help me process the shock and sadness I felt last Friday when 52% of the population of my country – motivated, it seemed to me, by bigotry and short-sighted greed – voted to leave the European Union.
Cordie (12), who knows a lot about current affairs thanks mainly to the intelligent YouTubers she follows, was disappointed by the referendum result too, but she was puzzled by the intensity of my upset.
“I don’t understand why this is affecting you so much,” she said, with genuine compassion.
“Because … it’s our future,” was all I could reply, still reeling from the implications of what my country had just so casually thrown away.
“But Mummy, everything’s our future.”
Here was my little girl reflecting back to me the outlook I’ve modelled to her throughout her childhood. Life is so much more than one bad news story, however devastating it feels.
I gave myself another hour clicking sad, empathetic emoticons on my friends’ FaceBook feeds, then I sat down to watch The Big Bang Theory with my family.
Politics can wait until I’ve found my balance.
“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”
Sensitivity, Empathy and Compassion Fatigue – What Can You Do? Your Rainforest Mind
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How do you find your balance when world events rock your world?
How do you help your children find their balance?
I’d love to hear from you, in the comments on on the Laugh, Love, Learn FaceBook page. 🙂
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