In this post, former ME/CFS sufferer and Coach Simon Pimenta explores how people with ME/CFS can deal with external events that can be emotionally overwhelming.
I wrote this on 23 June 2016- the day that the UK voted to leave the European Union (EU), but recent events in Charlottesville and Barcelona (August 2017) prompted me to post this article.
For people experiencing ME/CFS, sometimes external events grab our attention, have an impact on our emotions and can even affect our wellbeing.
For some, the UK leaving the EU was a topic of little concern.
However, for many in the UK, it was an issue in which emotions run high.
Some described it as a good day, for others, the outcome is a disaster.
On facebook, people were posting predictions of calamity, a rise of right wing politics, a 3rd world war, and so on.
I recall the events of 9/11. I had ME/CFS at the time.
It was hard to not be affected by events.
The images were powerful and the coverage continuous.
It was natural to empathise with those who were directly affected.
I found it totally draining.
It seemed that to cut myself off from what was happening was cold and unfeeling.
Yet, to allow oneself to be consumed by events resulted in an exacerbation of my symptoms.
It doesn’t have to be a global or national event that has this kind of impact.
It may be something closer to home.
An event affecting your community or a loved one.
So how can a person with ME/CFS deal with external events with compassion to others, whilst taking care of themselves?
9 Strategies For Dealing With External Events
1. When You Can, Put Yourself First
If you don’t have the energy to get too involved in what is going on, then consider what steps you have to take to take care of yourself.
Of course, there may be times when you feel you have to respond to what is happening and get involved, despite the personal cost.
2. Take Time Out
Make a conscious decision about how much exposure you want to the events.
Consider whether you need to take some time out from Facebook, the TV etc.
For instance, with 9/11, I realised that following the 24/7 coverage was compelling, and that I needed to put limits on how much I watched.
3. Write It Down
Research shows that journaling can have a therapeutic effect.
It can help us process our feelings and make sense of things.
4. Identify Your Thoughts
What do you think about what has happened?
5. Identify Your Feelings
Ask ‘What do I feel about this?”
People often talk about what happened, what they think about what happened, but don’t always talk about what they feel about what happened.
It may be that your feelings are conflicting: shocked, sad, angry and/or resigned.
6. Share Your Feelings
Talk to someone you trust about what you are feeling.
Choose who you talk to carefully. When emotions are running high, people can be reactive.
When I wrote this article, there were some who were describing the people who voted ‘out’ as stupid and racist.
I might hesitate to share my mixed emotions with those people at that moment, at least until I had formulated my thoughts.
At the same time, you may feel it important to express your views honestly.
For example, I did challenge the view that all people who voted ‘out’ were racist, suggesting that some people who voted out probably genuinely believed that it was in the best interests of the Country.
Whilst I didn’t agree with that point of view, I thought it was arrogant to make sweeping assumptions about all ‘leave’ voters.
Getting things off your chest can be helpful!
7. Restore Balance
Consciously spend time doing whatever you need to do to restore balance, whether you need to meditate, listen to a guided relaxation, go for a walk etc.
8. Keep Your Imagination In Check
When 9/11 happened, I found myself replaying the images in my mind and imagining scenarios that people affected by the events first hand may have been experiencing.
On one level, this can be a way of making sense of our feelings.
However, it can become a habit, that we need to break.
For instance, I recall watching a trailer for a horror film that I found really disturbing.
I found myself replaying it in my mind when I went to bed, so that when I got in bed, that was a ‘trigger’ to start thinking about the film.
I had to consciously put my attention on something else to break that thought pattern.
9. Step Back
I remember someone once saying that if a person experiences some tragic loss, that we should step back and allow them to deal with it.
They suggested that imagining how we would feel in their shoes and playing out their loss in our heads repeatedly doesn’t help them. Nor does it help us.
It is challenging not to be affected by events outside our control.
However, we can take steps to take care of ourselves, so that we although we can’t control events, we can influence our response.
You have probably come across the Serenity Prayer before:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.
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After working in a demanding job as the Director of a Housing Trust, he went off sick and remained unable to work for the next 8 years.
He discovered a pioneering approach to resolving health issues and got back his health, and now trains others using these same techniques.