*** Author’s Note: This article should be read with R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” playing in headphones. If that song is not available, Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” is an author-approved substitute.
While it’s been a terrible year and a half for almost everything, it’s been a great time for R.E.M.’s 1987 hit single “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” The song has steadily crept back into our playlists, radio stations and general psyche during the past two years. Growing up, I used to listen to the song frequently and found its satirical, nihilistic tone to be quite comforting. In the aftermath of 9/11, living through the 2008 economic crash and the beginning of regular school shootings, it’s clear our generation was dealt a tough hand at a young age, a fact that has heavily shaped our lives. American stability has never been a comfort we could enjoy — even before the COVID-19 pandemic — and is certainly not something I foresee us enjoying in the near future.
As I’ve recently been listening to the song, the end of the chorus has stuck out to me. For those unfamiliar, the chorus:
It’s the end of the world as we know it,
It’s the end of the world as we know it,
It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.
The last time I listened to the song, that line in the chorus “and I feel fine” hit me like a sack of bricks. In many ways, it does feel like the world is ending, certainly as we know it. And I most certainly do not feel fine!
How do we individually process issues that so greatly affect the collective? From the ongoing pandemic to reports of the devastating effects of climate change; to the societal upheaval and fracturing we’ve witnessed from the steps of the Capitol Building to our own living rooms, it seems like the world is falling out from under us. I think these feelings of grief, despair, sadness and anger are natural, and we should accept and feel them when they arrive. However, we should not let them stifle our other emotions.
I’ve found a few strategies that have helped me process living through this series of unfortunate events we find ourselves in; strategies that both allow me to be involved in creating solutions while also taking care of my mental health. Going forward, I urge you to consider these strategies for yourself or to at least begin to engage with some of these topics.
First and foremost, creating an intentional consumption, and lack thereof, of media surrounding overwhelming topics has been key in preventing me from spiraling when addressing such topics. Finding time to hold space for stillness or taking a step back from certain topics is crucial in preventing a given issue from becoming overwhelming. When things become overwhelming they can become all-consuming, where one may feel hyper-fixated or unable to focus or act upon anything else. Alternatively, they can become compartmentalized, where one refuses to engage with a topic to prevent further emotions when addressing it. Both these responses prevent us from feeling the natural range of human emotions that should accompany our lives and perspectives on these topics.
A simple way to hold time for yourself is to segment time in your day to engage with a certain topic, like climate change or politics, therefore allowing you to engage with these critical issues thoughtfully. This provides you with space during the rest of the day to focus on other things, knowing you have addressed or will address those areas of concern. This promotes healthy reflection, action and engagement with these overwhelming topics. Other ways to help include adding filters to Instagram and Twitter accounts to limit the amount you consume regarding a certain topic while on the apps. Unexpected engagements with depressing articles can be incredibly demoralizing without producing any positive engagement or action.
Another strategy I’ve found, and one that is especially possible at the beginning of the school year, is to get involved with on-campus initiatives that can create local impact regarding topics of concern. While the doom and gloom surrounding a host of issues sometimes feel hopeless, getting involved on campus to make a local impact is incredibly important both for creating change and helping us feel the spectrum of feelings that accommodate our current situation. Being involved on campus in the work on topics like climate justice, racial justice, economic equality or sustainable living creates a sense of hope and purpose towards addressing those topics while simultaneously actually helping make change around them. So many wonderful groups exist on campus that are doing the work to engage and combat many of these seemingly insurmountable problems.
A final strategy is to just do something else, anything else. I often found these doomsday-like topics (that are frankly our reality for the foreseeable future) could quite literally push me into a corner. Feeling trapped and hopeless, I spent much more time thinking about all the things I could and should be doing than doing any of it. While we try to ‘what-if’ ourselves to death on a host of topics in an unhealthy and unproductive manner, finding something that works to combat these overwhelming feelings is imperative to preserving our mental health and working to fight these tough topics. Go on a walk, have an impromptu dance party, call your grandma. Don’t think, just break the ice.
At the end of the day, we’re all navigating what R.E.M. would describe as “the end of the world as we know it.” While we live through it, work our best to fight against it and ultimately see where current times lead us, we shouldn’t always feel fine. The “end of the world as we know it” can be quite daunting, scary and bleak — we should embrace this reality with authenticity and care. As we do so, let’s do our best to laugh, smile, cry, love, grieve, work, rest and take care of ourselves along the way.
Andrew Gerace is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.