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How to Cope with Growing Angst About Politics, COVID, and the World of Today

With the storming of the U.S. Capitol building, another presidential impeachment and the still-raging COVID-19 pandemic, recent weeks have been some of the most emotionally charged and chaotic in our collective memory. But Gary Small, M.D., behavioral health physician in chief for Hackensack Meridian Health, says there are ways for Americans to confront and overcome what many describe as feelings of rage, doubt, dread, anxiety and hopelessness so commonplace in our national psyche today.

A renowned psychiatrist and author of the international best-seller “The Memory Bible,”
Dr. Small offers the following techniques for staying mentally fit during these trying times.

Remember Proper Self-care


Life is stressful enough without the added emotional burden of attempting to mentally navigate the public health and political events of the past year. In stressful times we often turn to old, sometimes harmful ways of coping such as alcohol or drugs. Instead, we need to find healthy ways to cope. Try things like:

  • Create and stick to a routine
  • Get dressed every day
  • Eat healthy meals
  • Stay hydrated
  • Create and maintain a physical exercise routine

For instance, it can be good for our bodies and minds to spend more time in nature, or to meditate, listen to music, practice slow, mindful breathing, and make sure we get sufficient sleep.

Don’t forget about what you eat as well. It is beneficial for us to eat natural foods rich in anxiety-reducing nutrients, including leafy greens or whole grains for magnesium, cashews or egg yolks for zinc, salmon and other fish for omega-3 fatty acids, and avocados for B vitamins. Aerobic exercise boosts energy levels, improves mood and protects thinking and memory abilities.

Limit over-consumption of media

Cut back on screen time, especially for those politically charged radio and TV news and opinion outlets. Limit viewing to a small window every day, no more than is needed to keep up with major current events.

The same goes for time spent online. Social media channels sometimes lend themselves to explosive and heated conversations – raising emotional temperatures beyond what is healthy and the norm.

Turn instead to other means of online interaction with people you know, love and trust.
Family meetings or similar get-togethers accessible on a variety of online platforms can keep you connected to social clubs, religious organizations and community groups. These interactions are often therapeutic in nature.

Talk to your kids about what they see on TV

Children are highly susceptible to what they see and hear on TV. But parents and caregivers can have an enormous impact on kids’ minds and emotions, too, by what they say and how they act.

Some tips to consider are:

  • Consider your child's stage of mental and emotional development. Different ages can handle different types of information, from the simple to more complex. Tell the truth in a way they can understand.
  • Take time to listen to their fears and concerns and try to validate their feelings.
  • Talk about things that remain the same and keep a routine so that life does not feel too chaotic.
  • Be a role model for the behaviors you wish them to follow.
  • Remain connected to them about how they are feeling and coping emotionally.

Know that help is available
The pre-inauguration anxiety that followed a stressful election and the violence in our nation’s capital that ensued was unlike anything we have ever experienced before. When all else fails, know what health care resources for emotional stressors are available and how to access them. Do the same for family and friends when the mass hysteria generated by recent events becomes too much to handle.

Gary Small, M.D., is behavioral health physician in chief for Hackensack Meridian Health. Prior to joining Hackensack Meridian Health in November 2020, Small was a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, Parlow-Solomon professor on aging at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, director of the Division of Geriatric Psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior, and director of the UCLA Longevity Center. 

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