The world we live in today can be overwhelming at times. We worry about everything from world peace to peace at our own dinner table. It can be extremely challenging to direct our energy into areas that we have more control over: we can find ourselves getting lost in the negatives that are beyond our control. Lately, I try to employ one idea when I feel overwhelmed: I repeat to myself the mantra “one positive change.”
Personally, I have struggled with the desire to compare myself to other people. It did not help matters that I was starting off most of my days scrolling through social media. Our multi-tasking mornings are not necessarily relaxing to begin with. Call me crazy, but cleaning up a once-full-now-empty waste basket knocked over by the dog while helping your high schooler locate homework (that should have been in the backpack the night before) AND trying to give feedback on a college student’s paper due in a few hours is not my idea of a relaxing morning. Flashing back to my Facebook friends’ pictures of family bliss that I scrolled through earlier led me to feel even worse about my own hectic and contentious morning. I truly was comparing my reality to someone else’s highlight reel. Time for the mantra: “one positive change.”
It helps to ask where the control lies in each particular situation. I can make some modifications to create less stress in the morning (put the wastebasket up high, oversee the backpack preparation the previous evening), but I have to concede that I cannot anticipate all the last minute stressors that may appear. I can, however, make one positive change: for me, that is starting the morning with a few minutes of quiet time or reading a novel instead of scrolling through social media. If I limit my exposure to social media to one time per day, I find it truly is an opportunity to catch up with others, instead of an overexposure to opinions, activities, and news that quickly becomes information overload.
“One positive change” means we acknowledge that we cannot solve the multitude of dilemmas swirling around in our minds at any given time. I have a friend who is especially bothered by the seemingly never-ending conflicts and problems in the world around us. This person chose to change her exposure to the news by switching from playing 24 hour news channels in the background to watching the old-fashioned 30 minute evening news. While she does not have control over the vast majority of events she sees in the news reports, by condensing her viewing to these 30 minutes, she does not subject herself to potentially constant upsetting news and analysis. She may even find renewed energy for activism related to a news story, such as going out and volunteering for a cause she believes in.
Instead of giving up in a situation that feels overwhelmingly negative, ask yourself what is “one positive change” you can make. This change DOES need to be within your control and DOES NOT need to solve everything at once. There is amazing power, and no small amount of relief, in choosing something manageable that you can change for the better. Sometimes, we get lost in the unending concerns we have for ourselves and the world around us to the point that we feel helpless. Starting my day with fifteen minutes of quiet time or reading a novel, instead of scrolling through social media, is not going to change the world. It may, however, help me show more patience and appreciation when I interact with my family, right down to that apparently ravenous, hunting-in-the-wastebasket-for-food dog. This, in turn, may help the humans in our household as they go off to work and school. Who knows: maybe that will inspire them to treat someone kindly during their day. If you ask me, what starts off as “one small thing” might turn out to be pretty big after all.
Laura B. joined Empathia in 2000 as an EAP Counselor. Laura has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with a concentration in marriage and family therapy. Prior to joining Empathia, she worked as a case manager with chronically mentally ill adults readjusting to life in the community. Laura enjoys reading, attending kids’ activities and spending time with family.