What To Do When the World Feels Like Its on Fire
“What’s Facebook and remind me why I need one again?”
“Ughhhh boo, how are you behind on this? It’s a way to stay in touch with people and to create an online profile of your life. You need to make one.”
“You’re really making me do this, huh?”
“Boo I’m just bringing you up to speed with the future.”
My friend was right, I needed a Facebook, but I really didn’t want one. It was the fall of 2006. I was fresh out of high school, a college newbie on the East Coast who had packed all belongings (including a printer and comforter) into the two 50 pound suitcases allowed on my one way flight from Utah to Ithaca, NY. I landed in the middle of a strange place with strange people. This friend would tease me on how behind I was on the newest internet and media trends, and encouraged (demanded) I create a Facebook account to stay in touch. I dug both heels in with a back-in-my-day-we-used-to-walk-five-miles-in-the-snow-both-ways resistance to creating one.
The irony of my hesitation to create an online persona then is now I’m addicted to Facebook, bordering on the neck-scratching-where’s-my-fix type of addicted. I check my newsfeed like I breathe air. My feed is a swirling pulsation of news, opinions and calls to action, baby pics, birthdays, weddings, vacations, promotions, deaths, and also a way to keep in touch with long distance family and friends. The duality of the blessing of this instant access to information comes with the curse of information overload -- skewing towards the negative, disheartening, and downright disturbing. From Facebook Live videos of people being killed by police on a routine traffic stop, to hourly news on injustice after injustice straight from the White House, social media and the news at large feels like taking two basketball sized globs of Sriracha sauce and throwing them into both eyes enthusiastically -- painful to say the least.
The world feels like it’s ablaze. Like it’s been in the oven too long and the edges are all burnt and taste like charcoal, so you’re trying to scrape the crispy crust off and make it palatable because dammit, you’re not wasting this sustenance.
I’ve had so many conversations recently with friends about how to manage this mental fire. How to be woke, and informed, and engaged with the world while staying sane. How to manage the ups and downs that come in our own daily lives, staying stable and sure in a world of uncertainty and unpredictable pain. How do we find serenity amongst the daily storm that is the human existence and experience?
The easy route to soothing this pain is to escape through distraction; busyness for no end but to be busy, the fog of booze, the thrill of sex, the delusion of drugs, the passive, mind numbing activity of TV. We need these escapes in doses to take the edge off and to enjoy life, but the issue comes when these activities are defaults to cope, as they can easily deplete us, bringing a high that quickly dissolves into a crash with nothing solved or changed.
One Surprising Way to Get Your Peace Fix
One overlooked means of gaining peace and contentment is creating. Do you need to be Bob Ross with a glossy fro and soothing voice to perform creative tasks in your personal or professional life? No (although any of those things are great to have), but there’s so many things you can gain from being open to engaging yourself creatively, including peace of mind.
Creating has so many benefits -- one in particular being in the state of flow. Flow is an optimal mental state of being completely present and fully immersed in a task. While in flow, you’ll lose track of time, feel energized focus, and enjoyment. Your mind is completely engaged in the process of creating, challenged just enough in a task you enjoy that everything -- worries, the future, the past -- falls away. By immersing yourself in a creative task you enjoy and are challenged by, you can begin to control the ruminating thoughts that lead to low states like anxiety and depression, and maybe you’ll even get a break through on a solution to a problem in your life you’ve been grappling with.
You Can See Clearly Now, The Rain (Pain) Has Gone
Another benefit of creating is it’s a tool for processing trauma and adversity. Some of humankind’s greatest, most memorable works of art are birthed from pain. The emotions generated by adversity can be channeled and processed through your creative expression. Whether it’s visual, writing, photography, the value behind creating a good meal, you can begin to piece together your own narrative and expression while dealing with a challenge in your life.
Writing has always been a source of emotional processing for me. From break ups, to being fired and damn near homeless, I would write and write some more about my feelings, struggles, and wins in a way that gave me a redemptive narrative which helped me immensely in processing my emotions and soothing my thoughts.
Now that you know how much serenity, peace, and tranquility can come from creating, you’re probably thinking - ok how do I do it? What do I create?
The first step is determining what things you enjoy making and doing. Do you like being lost in the depths of your mind? Creating connections between the symbolism and aesthetics of the world around you? Working with your hands? Start to analyze the activities and tasks you would do regardless of being paid or not, and double down on them. And no we're not talking about leisure; to gain the benefits of flow you have to work at it, it's an active state of mind and doesn't come from passive practices (although leisure has its separate benefits as well!).
The second step is to follow the 5 minutes a day rule. Set an alarm to do this task every day for five minutes. You can always, ALWAYS make a 5 minute space in your day. Swap out that cruising on social media, or random video clip you're watching, for a 5 minute writing break. Or 5 minutes coloring in a coloring book. Or 5 minutes strolling your neighborhood and taking pictures. Or 5 minutes writing angry raps like Issa Rae. Or 5 minutes researching that topic you always wanted to learn more about and explore more. A small, daily habit is an easily achievable task that you can maintain without much commitment in your schedule, while still gaining the benefits of creating.
I promise that your mind, spirit, and body will thank you.