How to Cope With the Stress of Civil Unrest

In mid-2020, protests about the deaths of African Americans were organized by Black Lives Matter groups across the United States. Other groups protested local and state mandates around wearing masks as a safeguard against COVID-19. By the end of 2020, there were regular protests around the results of the presidential election. On January 6, 2021, those protests went to a new level. The civil unrest spread to the United States Capitol, where armed protestors entered the building without permission and disrupted the certification of the Electoral College results. Many people watched the events live or streamed them. If you're still feeling ill-at-ease, upset, disgusted or scared by the deaths, violence and insurrection that took place, it's important to know how to cope with the stress and manage it in a healthy way. Mental health experts offer these tips that adults and children can use in order to deal with their stress and anxiety over the recent civil unrest in Washington, D.C.

Recognize What Stresses You

Many Americans already have a significant amount of stress caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, financial issues, worries about job loss, homelessness and more. Most people would never think that civil unrest would ever be added to their list of immediate concerns. Take a moment to recognize what is stressing you. Being able to identify the triggers of your stress will help you take action and manage them.

Set Limits on News Consumption

Constant "doom scrolling" or watching streaming news for hours and hours won't do you any good. On the other hand, it's also a bad idea to completely tune out what's going on in the world. Set a reasonable limit on how much news and social media you consume. Self-regulating how much news you consume will give you a sense of self-control. When you feel in control, you'll have a lower level of anxiety and stress. Consider limiting yourself to two 15-minute news and social media checks per day. Focus on one reliable news source. Avoid commenting on social media and fueling the fire of division. You can unfollow groups and pages that trigger your stress.

Put the News in Perspective

When you see riots and violence, your body's fight-or-flight response triggers your brain to think you're in immediate danger. Put the news into perspective. Your likelihood of being the victim of domestic terrorism or injured in civil unrest is less likely than your odds of wining the lottery jackpot. Decreasing your overreaction to the stress will help you customize your response to it.

Think About What You Can Do

Consider what you can do. You can volunteer with a political campaign. You could donate time or money to a cause that's important to you. You could call or email your representative in state government or Congress. If you're not yet registered to vote, you could do that now. Think about how you spend your time. If it's not aligned with what's most important to you, resolve to change your behavior. You might discover that you do have time to make calls for your preferred candidate if you spend less time scrolling through social media and feeding the trolls.

Exercise and Self-care

When stressed, you may feel a sense of nervousness and energy you don't know how to manage. Put that energy into exercise. Moving your body causes your brain to produce dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that causes you to feel calm and happy. Something as simple as taking a 30-minute walk through the park will significantly lower your stress. Focus on what your tea tastes like. Look at the color of the cup. Stay rooted in the moment. Fill the bathtub with warm water, and take a long bath. Practice mindful breathing techniques.

Focus on Good Nutrition

When you're stressed, your body makes a lot of cortisol. This hormone causes widespread inflammation, increases your blood pressure and lowers your immune system's functions. Focus on healthy eating. Fresh fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, leafy greens, broccoli and blueberries, combat that inflammation. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which exacerbate the physical symptoms of stress. Stay hydrated with water, infused water with slices of citrus or brewed herbal tea.

Read Some Good News

Although media coverage might sensationalize the extreme, bad and ugly news, there are still good stories to be found. Look for stories about helpers. Find the good things that are happening in your neighborhood. If you look, you will find plenty of good news that you can share with others.

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