Submitted by Allison Allen
If you frequently read my articles, you know that I usually take a pretty light tone. It’s just my style. Today, though, that somehow doesn’t seem quite right. The news has been pretty heavy recently, hasn’t it? We’ve surpassed 100,00 folks lost to COVID-19 in the US alone, we see people struggling to sort politics from public health, and of course, we are watching our nation convulse with anger and pain following the death of George Floyd.
In the midst of all that, I thought I would just talk a little about where we find meaning. Why? Because this series is about coping well with stress, and one of the primary ways we cope is by finding meaning. Making sense. Seeking some sort of good, ideally, even in the midst of losses that seem pointless, brutal and sad. The inability to find meaning in suffering is a big contributor to depression and also to the very corrosive coping mechanism of cynicism. Cynicism and bitterness are protective reactions meant to wall us off from further pain, however they often end up costing us quite a bit as they inadvertently end up draining meaning and sense from our view of life.
But where is meaning to be found when a loss seems senseless, such as a death due to a virus, cancer, an accident or worse? How do we avoid getting cynical and bitter? I think when we try to find meaning in the loss itself, we can hit dead ends. Meaning, it turns out, is found in what happens next. When we sustain a loss, after our initial emotional reaction, what do we do? How do we let what matters to us guide our life going forward, whether it is the memory of a loved one, a value we realize we need to live more deeply or any effort we make to improve the world around us? How does our response to the terrible headline or the personal tragedy reflect what matters most to us? This is where we find meaning, and when we risk reaching toward meaning rather than sheltering in cynicism, we are much less likely to become depressed or hopeless.
I hope in these challenging times you are able to find actions to take, small or large, that give you a sense of the meaning in your life and your connections to whatever it is that matters most to you. HINT: We almost never go wrong when we reach out to connect to someone we care about and let them know how we’re doing, or ask how they are doing.
Allison Allen is NorthLakes Chief Behavioral Health Officer