10 Ways To Cope When World Events Leave You Feeling Helpless And Afraid

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Unless you’ve experienced a terrible world event firsthand, it’s difficult to know how to cope with them.

After all, our coping mechanisms are developed via our real-life experiences. So when something out of our depth occurs, we don’t often have the tools to deal with the emotional or psychological fallout.

As a result, we may spin out and have absolutely no idea how to begin dealing with the huge feelings that come with being witness to these events.

Below are 10 coping methods that may prove helpful to you in times of global turmoil.

But first, a quick question:

Why do big world events affect me so much?

There are several reasons why big world events affect you deeply. These will differ from person to person but may include the following:

  • You can’t bear to see people or animals suffer.
  • You feel such immense empathy and compassion for others that to see so many suffer evokes a strong sense of grief and sadness.
  • You may have a strong personal connection with some aspects of the event taking place, so you’re affected as though it’s a personal attack, even at a distance.
  • The hugeness of the event makes you feel very small and hopeless in the face of tragedy, especially with the awareness that it could happen to anyone.
  • You feel helpless because you don’t know how (or even if) you can help to make the situation better.
  • You experience fear and uncertainty about the long-reaching effects this event is going to have (e.g. environmental, political, socio-economical, and so on).
  • You’re reminded of human fragility and mortality, and are thus forced to reexamine challenging aspects of your own life that you may have been ignoring or avoiding.
  • You may be horrified by other people’s reactions toward it, be that apathy, contempt, or even schadenfreude at the tragedies unfolding.

Generally, the more caring and empathic a person is, the more strongly they’ll react to intense world events. This is because their capacity for empathy and compassion is so immense that they partially take on the suffering that so many are experiencing.

The hugeness of their emotions may be debilitating, causing them more fear and helplessness than they know how to cope with.

10 Coping Strategies To Help You Handle World Events Without Getting Overwhelmed By Them

Below are 10 coping strategies that may be helpful to you when you’re feeling overwhelmed by tragic world events.

You can adapt them to suit your own preferences, and consider using them in various combinations that appeal to you.

When you’re faced with intense world events and tragedies, engaging these coping mechanisms may help to keep you feeling grounded and capable of carrying on.

1. Reduce exposure while still staying informed.

Being constantly bombarded by horrific images can wreak havoc on your sanity, especially if you’re too far away to lend an immediate helping hand.

As such, the incessant stream of information and haunting photos and videos can cause intense reactions in those viewing them.

One of the main ways that can manifest is in “empathy fatigue.” Symptoms of this can include:

  • A feeling of numbness and emotional disassociation
  • Emotional and physical exhaustion
  • Sleep disturbances (e.g. insomnia, nightmares, waking frequently)
  • Feeling continually overwhelmed, especially by minor issues or inconveniences that would normally not cause any reaction
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea/loss of appetite
  • Irritability
  • An overwhelming sense of powerlessness
  • Loss of pleasure in previous loved pastimes and hobbies
  • Depression

While it’s important to remain informed about what’s going on, you don’t need to immerse yourself in devastating news every moment of every day. In fact, it’s downright unhealthy to do so.

Set aside the amount of time you feel you can cope with learning and seeing more about what’s happening, and then limit your exposure to that block of time.

If you start to feel overwhelmed during that time, then take a step back until you feel that you can handle it again.

Furthermore, don’t let others try to guilt or pressure you into being a witness on their terms. We all have different thresholds as far as witnessing atrocity is concerned, and what rolls off one person like water off a duck’s back may traumatize another forever.

Stay informed on your terms, share trusted information responsibly, and withdraw into your own peace whenever necessary.

2. Remain present, and take action that serves you.

One of the best ways to cope with disastrous news is to remain in the present moment as fully as you can.

We never know what the next moment will bring, so it’s best to dwell entirely on what’s happening with this heartbeat, this breath.

The next step is to do things that will serve you and those closest to you, since you aren’t able to help those who are suffering elsewhere.

Look at what’s happening in front of you in your local environment, and (as we’re going to get into shortly), take action about the things that are within your control.

For instance, examine where there may be weaknesses in your immediate surroundings and then do your best to redress them. By acting on what’s needed right here, right now, you’re fortifying your mind against worst-case scenarios while also keeping yourself busy with beneficial tasks.

A good example of this is to check your pantry to see what needs bulking up. If current world events may cause food shortages, then stock up on staples like flour, rice, oats, beans, and canned goods. Similarly, if extreme weather is causing floods and landslides, determine whether your own home is at risk and start filling sandbags if you feel they’re needed.

The military is very fond of contingency training, which involves anticipating layer upon layer of “what ifs” in every possible scenario. The main intention behind this, however, isn’t the action or endeavor at hand—it’s to ensure that the troops’ morale remains strong regardless of circumstance, so they can perform with focused efficiency.

In times of crisis, you can maintain peace of mind by focusing on this mantra: “Whatever happens in life, I can meet it with calmness, strength, and grace.” Regardless of what’s occurring elsewhere in the world, how you choose to respond is always in your own control.

To quote Viktor Frankl:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances; to choose one’s own way.”

– from Man’s Search for Meaning

3. Focus on things you can control.

When you feel that you have little to no control over events in the world, focus on the things you can control.

Try not to think about nightmare scenarios in your mind, but instead, focus on something tangible—something in front of you that you can fix right here, and right now.

A great way to do this is to approach a situation in your life that seems chaotic at the moment and create order from it.

For example, tackle the messy junk drawer that’s been languishing in the kitchen for years and either throw away, donate, or organize whatever’s in it accordingly.

Tame the overgrown garden by pulling weeds and pruning back shrubs.

Make small, measurable positive changes happen in your own life, and you won’t feel as overwhelmed or helpless in the grand scheme of things.

In Japanese Buddhism, a key meditative practice involves cleaning for several hours a day. This may involve sweeping the temple grounds, washing the floors, laundering clothes, and so on. The monks focus entirely on the task at hand, cultivating non-attachment while also eliminating dust and dirt from the surrounding environment. Clean temple = clean mind.

If you have more nervous energy than you can handle and you’re not sure what to do with yourself, consider putting this type of cleaning meditation into practice in your own home. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover how much calmer you feel after you’ve cleaned the kitchen from ceiling to floor, or dusted and reorganized all the shelves in your home.

4. Do something physical while listening to uplifting music.

Physical activity releases endorphins and dopamine, which can do wonders for lightening the spirit.

It also allows you to release pent-up energy that may be balled up within you during times of crisis and panic due to world events beyond your control.

Take note of how your emotions are affecting your body right now. Are your shoulders up around your ears? Do you feel tightness in your belly?

We all carry tension and challenging emotions in different parts of our body, and taking part in physical activity helps to release that tension so we can relax and refocus.

The type of physical activity to partake in will depend on your personal preferences as well as your fitness level. One person may benefit from gentle stretching while another will go for a run or hit the punching bag for a while.

If you like to dance, consider going out clubbing so you can shake it out on the dance floor, or hold an impromptu dance party with the kids.

The key here is to combine physical activity with the type of music that you feel is uplifting.

5. Focus on beauty.

What are the images, sounds, and sensations that inspire you and bring you joy? Do you find comfort and solace in nature? Or by visiting art galleries and museums?

When terrible things happen around the world, our instinct is to immerse ourselves in the horror show as much as possible to bear witness and hopefully figure out how to help.

Depending on how close you are to what’s going on, there’s also the self-preservation aspect: if you’re hypervigilant about what’s unfolding, then you’re better prepared to deal with things if they shift in your direction.

That said, it’s important to remember that your mind is shaped on a day-to-day basis by the things that you impress upon it. And you get to decide what you look upon, and thus mentally absorb and digest.

You’re likely familiar with the adage “you are what you eat,” and it’s startlingly applicable in this situation. We can get mental and emotional “food poisoning” by consuming nothing but traumatic images and videos, rather than taking in a balanced sensory diet.

Focusing at least a quarter of your time looking upon the many beautiful things that can be found in this world can help massively when dealing with this life’s uglier aspects.

Sure, stay informed of what’s going on, and then put on your favorite movie or spend some time scrolling through inspiring art accounts on Pinterest or Instagram.

Go for a walk and appreciate your local architecture or green spaces. Feed squirrels and wild birds, go window shopping, pick up something tasty at the bakery, buy yourself some flowers.

There’s an extraordinary amount of beauty in the world, even in the midst of atrocity.

6. Make self-care a priority.

This involves taking care of yourself to regain equilibrium by any means necessary.

Don’t beat yourself up for indulging in comfort foods that you would ordinarily avoid, or for sleeping longer than you normally do. Sleep is healing, and decent nourishment will go a long way toward helping you brace against the mental and emotional onslaught you’re contending with.

Baths and showers can help to ease the tension you’re carrying in your back and shoulders, while yogic breathing and/or meditation can be immensely helpful for regulating your emotions.

If you find that your mind wanders if you’re simply focusing on your breath, then consider a guided meditation with relaxing music.

Do you react well to different soothing scents? Aromatherapy can have incredibly calming effects, as long as you aren’t allergic or averse to the scents you choose.

If you’re feeling truly overwhelmed to the point where you’re barely functional, book some time off work or school and simply rest as much as you can. Rest is one of nature’s best healers—you can cope with a lot more than you realize after some solid, replenishing sleep.

7. Do something in service to others.

When horrible things happen in the world, especially massive events that we have no influence or control over, it’s easy to feel despair and helplessness.

Few of us will ever be able to have enough power and influence to help large numbers of others, especially in times of crisis. What we’re all capable of doing, however, is helping a few beings in the best ways we can.

There’s a story about an old man who was walking on the beach with his grandson. Thousands of starfish littered that beach, stranded after the high tide receded. The little boy started to pick up the fish to toss back into the sea, and the grandfather asked why he bothered even trying. “You can’t save all of them,” he said. “I know,” replied the boy, holding up one of the starfish, “but I can save this one.”

Each of us has gifts that we can use to help others. Think of a cause that’s important to you, and consider what you can do to be helpful toward that cause.

By channeling your energy into positive action like this, you’ll lessen your own sense of helplessness and cultivate a stronger sense of purpose.

This goes a long way toward mitigating anxiety, depression, and hopelessness.

Additionally, every little bit counts. One person might only be able to make a tiny difference to a scant few, but small actions done by millions of people really add up.

8. Journal about how you’re feeling.

Whether you have a good support team or not, journalling can be an immensely effective way to work through the feelings of fear and helplessness you’re currently experiencing.

Writing down everything you’re thinking and feeling allows you to channel these thoughts and emotions from the intangible realm into the physical one.

This alleviates internal tensions because you’re drawing them out of your body like pus from an infected wound. Once they’re out, they won’t affect you quite as deeply because they aren’t spinning around inside you anymore.

It’s important to write these out by hand wherever possible because the physical act of writing is what allows you to exorcise these difficulties.

Later, once you’re feeling a bit more grounded, you can take a compassionate look at everything you’ve written down and examine it all. This can grant you some insights as to the best ways to move forward.

For example, we discussed doing things in service to others when you’re feeling helpless and hopeless. If, in your journal, you’ve written down how devastated you are to think of all the animals that have suffered from this catastrophe, consider volunteering some time at a local shelter, fostering animals at your home, or donating food or items to help care for them.

9. Be kind to yourself.

This is different from the “self-care” section mentioned earlier, as it has less to do with action and more to do with treating yourself gently.

A lot of people are very hard on themselves when it comes to situations that scare or upset them. Many feel like they need to “suck it up” and deal with overwhelming feelings of fear or despair as though these things didn’t bother them at all, because that’s what strong, capable adults do, right?

Some might be okay with that approach, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for everyone.

In fact, holding all those intense feelings inside and pretending you’re not bothered can be far more damaging than letting them out and working through them in a healthy manner.

If you’ve been hard on yourself for feeling “weak” or “childish” about your reactions toward horrific disasters and the like, please be kind and compassionate instead.

Furthermore, try not to diminish nor dismiss the emotions you’re feeling with platitudes like “disasters will happen, this is just normal” or “people die—get used to it.”

This type of response invalidates the very real emotions you’re feeling, and it might make you cultivate even more self-loathing with regard to your natural human responses to horrific events.

10. Don’t hesitate to seek help when and if you need it.

None of us can handle all of life’s troubles and turmoils on our own. That said, each of us has personal preferences as far as support system choices go.

Some people like to talk to friends and family members about their woes, while others may turn to a spiritual advisor.

If you aren’t comfortable discussing your troubles and concerns with those closest to you, then it’s a good idea to book some time with a therapist or counselor. These are trained professionals who may be far better equipped to help you through your difficulties than your peers or partner may be.

This is especially true if those close to you are also affected by the event(s) taking place. If they’re already feeling overwhelmed, they may not have the reserves to be able to help you with your emotional upheaval effectively.

No matter where you are, there are people who can help you however you need them to. You’re not alone in this.

Final thoughts.

It’s inevitable that shocking and devastating events will happen at some point in our lives.

Natural disasters, wars, economic collapse, illnesses, and climate-related issues will ebb and flow, and different people will be affected by different situations.

We would all love to live out our lives without having to deal with any of the strife and despair that these events bring, but that isn’t the reality of existence on this planet.

When we accept that awful things are going to happen, we can learn how to adapt and flow with them accordingly.

The coping strategies listed here are a few ways that may help you deal with the Big Stuff that’s going to happen, but every individual will adapt them according to their own preferences.

One person’s coping mechanism might be to leap into action, while another may retreat into the woods for some silent solace amongst the trees. Do whatever works for you, remain as present as possible, and be patient and compassionate with yourself.

You will get through this.

About The Author

Catherine Winter is an herbalist, INTJ empath, narcissistic abuse survivor, and PTSD warrior currently based in Quebec's Laurentian mountains. In an informal role as confidant and guide, Catherine has helped countless people work through difficult times in their lives and relationships, including divorce, ageing and death journeys, grief, abuse, and trauma recovery, as they navigate their individual paths towards healing and personal peace.