When Bad Things Happen - Strategies for Coping in an                                                             Unsettled World
This article was originally written for a wellness publication in April 2003

The emphasis of these newsletters is on wellness.  About being healthy in spite of the day to day stresses of modern life. Being well is a challenge. Recently, being mentally healthy has become more challenging. It is impossible not to be stressed, at some level, by THE WAR.  While there have been over 150 conflicts in the world since the end of WWII, never has it felt so close to home. This is the first time in history that we are on the front line in real time through the media.

A recent article in the New York Times ( A Nation at War: The Mood, March 21) examined the effects of the war on the average person.  Whether it was postponing a  trip, stocking up on canned food, or watching more TV, we have all been affected. The ups and downs of the stock markets reflect the mood of concern, as do our daily shopping patterns.  So does every family as they gather around their TV sets in the evening. "I just feel like the world is not the same place it was yesterday. I feel like I can no longer sit on the sidelines,"  a father was quoted as saying.

How can we ensure we stay healthy in an environment dominated by images and sounds and threats of escalating violence and terrorism?  Wars increasingly involve civilian populations as targets. Wars increasingly involve all of us as observers in our own living rooms. To be human and healthy is to react and have opinions. To turn away, to feel nothing is to deny reality, to become disconnected.

But how do we hang onto HOPE? How can we not be discouraged or feel powerless in light of events that appear beyond our control?

Dr. Susan Rosenthal, Director of the Adler Trauma Therapy Clinic in Toronto, says that it is important to do something.  We need to act to prevent our feelings of powerlessness becoming our sources of illness.  She reminds us that healthy people are part of support systems, that it is important not to isolate ourselves. She underlines that hopeful people are healthy people, and to remember that while violence and destruction can be part of humanity, so too are generosity, altruism and kindness.

No matter what stand you take, you need to act. Talking to friends and family who support your opinion and allow you to express concerns and fears is a chance to feel part of a community.

Taking part in demonstrations, signing petitions, putting a candle in the window provide a chance to speak out in favour of the resolution that you support. Choosing your television news channels carefully can increase your chances of getting a better perspective.  While the media can be a source of propaganda, it can be a source of hope and comfort when it demonstrates to us the variety of opinions, the great acts of heroism, the democratic process at work. Turning the TV off early, hours before you go to bed, is an act of taking charge in preparation for a peaceful sleep. Talking to your EAP counsellor when you feel overwhelmed is sensible.  In the same way, eating well, exercising and celebrating family traditions are good for the body, mind and spirit.

Several clients have asked me how to handle children's questions.  The answer is as individual as the child. Some children are interested and curious, while others prefer to play and barely notice what is happening.   Do not expose small children to news stories and adult talk and fears. Reassure older children that the adults in their lives, while concerned, are indeed responsible and in charge. We will take good care of them.

We have created the world we live in.  We keep it going through our labours. There is much good to be noted in the world.  Approximately 800 million people have gained access to improved water since 1990.

Since 1980, civilian governments have replaced 33 military regimes and 81 other countries have taken significant steps toward democratization ( 2002 UNDP Report on Human Development).  Just as mankind ended WWII and created the United Nations and the International Court in the Hague, the common man brought down the iron curtain in the late 1980s, ended Imperialism in India, and United States involvement in Vietnam and will continue to strive for Peace.

In 1927 Max Ehrman wrote the Desiderata.  Its wisdom still holds today.  "...the world is full of trickery. But let not this blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism... And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should ... And whatever your labours and aspirations in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams: it is still a beautiful world...... Strive to be happy."