Finding The Way Back to Calm

by WV Marshall

While the origins of the quote (or curse, depending on your point of view), “May you live in interesting times,” the thought behind it certainly has come through in spades recently.

Tensions and anxiety are spilling over in any number of instances – health, wealth, politics, the planet, ecumenism, religion, violence. “When will it all end?” “Will it end?” “Will things get better?” are all legit questions that have no date solid response. So, how do we cope?

Dr. Broderick Sawyer, a clinical psychologist, in an article published by, offered up four countermeasures he said he found were effective for patients with anxiety. He suggested giving them a try the next time you feel yourself becoming worked up to being anxious over the news or social media feed.

Breath-based emotional regulation and meditation. Breathing-based regulation can be helpful in socio-political “hot” times. Breathing can help you regulate your natural anxiety – even anger – because deep breathing can help encourage a feeling of safety.

The key is to practice, practice, practice. Sawyer recommends practicing regulated, deep breathing for between five and 10 minutes a day, in addition to when you feel your anxiety begin to build. Meditation techniques – inhale deeply through the nose, exhale forcefully through the mouth, for example – also can help you learn to breathe deeply.

Learn to take charge of your own self-worth. If you’re a member of a marginalized or demonized community, you know how easy it is to be swallowed up by the bigoted stupidity posted on social media and how allowing these messages to get to you can lead to anxiety.

While the messaging won’t stop, “you can take charge of your self-worth by learning to speak to yourself with kindness and dignity,” Sawyer said. Value opinions of the people you value. Speak kindly to yourself when you’re feeling down. Choose a quote from someone you admire and repeat it so much that it becomes your standard for how you navigate the world. “Remember, negative talk from others doesn’t define you,” he said. “You define your self-worth.”

Listen in a nonreactive manner. This likely requires modification in everyday listening since we tend to be reactive listeners; that is, we listen first to respond and then second to understand. However, anxiety can increase when we’re with folks who have different views from our own.

Nonreactive listening can be applied to any situation, including when interacting with folks who have different political or social beliefs than ours. The tricks are to listen to the person’s comments fully and without judgment, see if the person’s logic makes sense, ask follow-up questions if you think there are holes or gaps in the logic, and finally, flip the script so you’re listening first to understand and second to respond.

Live according to your values. Being true to your values is important, especially during times of great stress. It’s easy to live according to the values of others, but that means you lose sight of what matters to you and what makes you, well, you. It’s about doing things that make you feel good, figuring out what you care about and acting in accordance with that.

“When you keep track of, and live by, your values, you may realize you’ll feel much more at peace,” Sawyer said.

While we may be living in challenging times, we still can make changes in our lives to help us feel more comfortable with ourselves and our concerns about the future.

As John Lennon said, “Nobody told me there’d be days like these/Strange days indeed.”