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Persevering Through Current Events

Our world can feel like a constant stream of bad news. From violence in our communities to natural disasters, it seems like every day brings a new tragedy to process. At the Counseling Center, we can relate – and we want to support you in persevering through these difficult times.

Perseverance can be summed up in two words: keep going. It is a key ingredient to resilience and the antidote to hopelessness. How do we practice and cultivate perseverance in such a troubled world?

  1. Pause. Rest may seem at odds with perseverance, but it is a critical part of it. Perseverance requires energy, and energy requires rest. Set yourself up to persevere by giving your body and your mind an opportunity to take the space you need when learning upsetting news. Read Tricia Hersey’s The Nap Ministry (or follow her on social media) if you need further convincing!
  2. Acknowledge your experience. When tragedy strikes a community, awareness of various privileges we may hold can paralyze us with guilt and shame. Do not allow yourself to drown in the shame of privilege: it isn’t kind or helpful for you or for those in need. Instead, mindfully acknowledge what you are feeling, neither minimizing or exacerbating your experience. This will likely help you recognize ways in which the privilege you hold allows you to be an ally to and advocate for populations holding marginalized identities. Check out our newsletter that addresses structural injustice, privilege, and allyship.
  3. Balance the amount and type of news you take in. It is tempting to avoid the news, to escape the sadness, anger, grief, pain, hopelessness, and despair that it can cause. There are absolutely times when setting a boundary around the news we absorb is adaptive, comforting, and necessary to our ability to survive the tragedies that unfold in front of us each day. Finding the right balance between connecting to what’s happening in our world and protecting ourselves from over-exposure is critical to staying afloat. Here are some practical tips for how you might set boundaries around your news intake.
  4. Set appropriate and realistic expectations for yourself. Perseverance does not mean going on as if nothing has happened. When we are struggling with something happening in the world or in our lives, it makes sense to attend to what we are experiencing and ask ourselves what we need, academically and otherwise. This may mean canceling certain obligations or making peace with a less-preferred outcome. There are moments in life when surviving is enough.
  5. Dopamine. Did you know that dopamine influences our ability to persevere during hard times? Dopamine is the fuel for the reward system in our brain that motivates us to keep going. When life all around us seems to be so full of despair, we can manufacture our own dopamine. Make progress on something you have control over, even if it’s as simple as a puzzle, a game, or that load of laundry. Complete that five-minute task you have been avoiding. Engage your senses in a sight, sound, smell, taste, or feeling that brings you comfort and joy. Get enough sleep. (See Rest section above!)  Take advantage of the sunshine when our Chicago weather allows for it, or go for a walk, stretch, or exercise. It all sounds very simple and like it may not map on to the larger issues at hand, but investing in your self-care (and your dopamine), has an impact on your ability to persevere. Read more here about ways to increase your dopamine.
  6. Gratitude. We are hard-wired as humans to attend more to negative things going on in our lives than to positive – after all, it is adaptive to be able to detect threats so that we can do what we need to ensure our safety. But this tends to be helpful only up to a certain point. While it might feel strange or even invalidating to consider gratitude in the face of negativity, you may be surprised by how gratitude can be a life raft that carries you through hard times. Consider your blessings alongside hardship as a “both/and” rather than an “either/or.” Gratitude research has been picking up steam for the last decade, and great resources are available to learn more about it. 
  7. Connect with others. It is difficult to persevere alone. Stay connected to safe and trusted others in your life, whether it’s to serve as a pleasant distraction or to process the impact of current events. It’s called support for a reason – and it will help carry you through difficult times. For opportunities to connect on campus, consider attending a drop-in space at the Counseling Center, joining an org, a cultural center, or a therapy group.
  8. Make a plan. Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” For some people, action feels like an accessible part of perseverance, and it can help to have a plan for how you might choose to act when certain distressing events arise. For example, you might be aware of certain charities or non-profit organizations that offer opportunities to volunteer, attend discussions, or join campaigns. You might have books you plan to read or letters you’d like to write to leaders with influence. Even if your ability to help monetarily may be limited, there are many ways to connect with humanitarian aid and positive social change.
  9. Be patient. How can we be patient when people are dying? When injustices continue to permeate our systems and our efforts to change those systems? Impatience can be a motivator and contribute to the change process – yet it can also result in frustration and ultimately lead us to give up.  Cultivating patience allows us to persevere over time, as we tolerate distress, make space for our needs, and ultimately contribute to the changes we need to see in the world. Workbooks for developing patience are available – give this one a try!
  10. Believe in yourself! Self-efficacy is a critical part of perseverance – in order to keep going, it helps to believe that you can do it.  Many of us believe that criticizing ourselves leads to increased motivation – when it’s actually self-compassion that motivates us to persist.       Increase your care for yourself and expand your coping skills through self-compassion: consider signing up for a self-compassion workshop or doing some self-compassion meditations to improve your relationship with yourself.

Practicing these coping strategies can help develop perseverance. We recognize that you can work on developing these skills independently; however, the Counseling Center also offers groups and individual therapy, as well as drop-in spaces that can be an opportunity to develop these skills.