by Shauna M. Ahern
Have you felt paralyzed by the grief of what’s happening in the Ukraine?
Have you been looking at every video, each snippet of news, and more and more first-hand accounts on Twitter?
You might have been crying much of the day, overwhelmed by the horror of this. Perhaps you’ve been saying to yourself, “What does my discomfort matter? Look at what’s happening in the world. How could I complain about my life?”
Until a couple of years ago, I would have been unable to move through this experience, as well. I would have lost days to overwhelming sorrow and fear.
But once I began cultivating the habit of living joyfully, I realized something important.
Here’s the truth: we can’t actually change anything by giving most of our attention to watching the news and being horrified all day long.
Losing ourselves to horror and despair is not helping anyone in Ukraine.
It is possible to care deeply about what is happening and not give away our joyful gratitude for our lives today.
Practice compassion for yourself.
When you understand that watching the news or posting on social media doesn’t actually help people in Ukraine, you can put your attention instead on being kind to yourself.
If you’re deeply sensitive, and you find yourself overwhelmed by all these stories, then pay attention to your own needs.
Ask yourself these questions.
Have these stories triggered something that reminds me of my past?
Since this is such hard news, how can I make more time for soothing experiences today?
Remember — if you’re a wreck, you’ll have a hard time being clear enough to take action to help others.
And please do not push aside your own pain and fears, insisting to yourself that you have nothing to complain about when such horrible things are happening.
What is happening in your own life matters. Your joy matters too.
Create clear boundaries around your news consumption.
The internet makes it possible for us to connect with people all around the world. That can be a gift.
But our nervous systems are not equipped to take in all this information. We’re harming ourselves by paying too much attention to a situation we cannot control.
The 24-hour news cycle — both on television and social media — has led us to believe that we have to keep up with the latest stories. But that’s a false construct. Remember when no one had smartphones and people only read newspapers or watched 30 minutes of national news every evening?
Return yourself to that habit.
Turn off all the notifications from news sources from popping up on your phone.
You don’t need to read the latest news every 12 minutes. You definitely don’t need to watch a 24-hour news television station all the time.
Turn them off.
Find 1 to 3 news sources you trust and read/view the news from them. I give my attention to PBS Newshour, the BBC World Service News Hour, and All Things Considered on NPR.
Most days, I pick one of these sources and give them my full attention.
After listening and learning from one of these sources, I have all the news I can absorb for the day. And since those are contemplative spaces, calmly delivered, I don’t feel overwhelmed when I’ve watched or listened to any of them.
And the time you’ve gained by not listening to the news constantly? Spend it with your loved ones instead.
Do something tangible.
Give money to the people who are on the ground in the Ukraine. They need the funds to do the work we cannot from here.
Choose not-for-profit organizations that have received commendations for transparency and using their money well. Make sure the organization was not created 2 weeks ago. We need dependable sources we know will help the people of Ukraine.
You will feel a sense of relief and purpose when you have given to the people who can do the most immediate good.
Here are 3 organizations I have chosen to give money to this week.
World Central Kitchen. Founded by Chef José Andres in 2010, after a devastating earthquake in Haiti, World Central Kitchen shows up on the front lines of crises to feed people. As they say in their motto: “Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people may eat, we will be there — we must be there.” Within hours of the invasion of Ukraine, World Central Kitchen had established systems for feeding people in Poland, Romania, and within Ukraine itself.
Doctors Without Borders. This organization, founded in 1971, has remained committed to bringing medical aid wherever it’s needed. They help millions of people, around the world, every year. They’re in Ukraine right now.
Razom. This Ukrainian organization was formed in 2014, after the Revolution of Dignity. This on-the-ground organization has been working to foster democracy and prosperity in Ukraine. They have the partnerships and volunteers in place in the Ukraine and the US to work quickly, where help is needed.
Giving something will help your mind feel better. An act of conscious giving releases dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin into the body.
Want to feel better? Do something tangible.
Find work to do in your zip code.
We may not be able to do much for Ukraine right now, other than giving to the organizations who can help. But when you can identify what concerns you the most in this situation, you can do something where you live.
Are you deeply upset by the 1 million (and counting) children who are now refugees from Ukraine? Find an organization in your area that works with refugee families. See what you can do to help.
Concerned about the number of people without homes in Ukraine? Volunteer for a shelter for the unhoused in your area. You’ll find an enormous need where you live too.
Don’t feel helpless. Do something.
Focus on your gratitude.
Once you have practiced compassion for yourself and understand that you deserve to see your own life in the midst of this, then you can take the next step.
Can you turn your grieving into gratitude?
Flip the script in your head of what needs fixing. Instead, focus on what is right.
Kids waking up in the middle of the night? You have the chance to snuggle your child to sleep in a safe, warm head.
Are you feeling bad about yourself because you haven’t tackled that mound of laundry yet? You have clothes to wear.
Feeling so tired that you have to crawl into bed in the middle of the afternoon? You have a bed, a home, and you can pay attention to what your body needs.
Let this be a time where we work on that lousy state of not feeling good enough about ourselves.
Let’s focus on gratitude instead.
Why does our joy matter right now?
Joyful people have cultivated the courage to embrace themselves, as they are. These are the people who aren’t burdened by the fear of speaking out, standing up for what they believe, or supporting other people in their suffering.
When we are stuck in the cycle of not thinking of ourselves as worthy, we squander the energy we could be using to help lift up others.
Your joy matters. We need more joy in the world.
And here’s a secret you might not know yet: it’s joyful people who make lasting change in cultures.
Once you know your own joy, you naturally want to work for the joy of others.
It might be that taking these steps to remain joyful is the most important work you can do right now.
Shauna M. Ahern is an award-winning author, facilitator, and speaker. She knows her purpose in life: to show others how to cultivate their courage to embrace themselves, as they are. That’s joy. And it’s powerful work.
Shauna built a huge online community through her food blog, Gluten-Free Girl, one of the world’s first gluten-free food blogs, much lauded by The Guardian, The Times of London, Gilt Taste, Newsweek, and The New York Times. She and her husband, Daniel, taught culinary getaways in a villa in Tuscany, appeared on The Food Network, and won a James Beard award for one of their three much-beloved cookbooks.
After writing Gluten-Free Girl for 14 years, Shauna wrote a memoir about her childhood trauma and how she unraveled herself from it, to help others. That book, ENOUGH: Notes from a Woman Who Has Finally Found It was recommended by Brené Brown, The Washington Post, and thousands of readers who say the book has changed their lives.
These days, Shauna is continuing the work she started with ENOUGH by facilitating retreats with teams of people in companies who care about their employees’ emotional wellness. She also gives keynote speeches about this work as well. Shauna coaches groups of women who want to cultivate the courage to become joyful. She writes about the work of accepting ourselves as we are, in her subscription newsletter and in magazines.
Shauna teaches that choosing to cultivate joy as a habit is a revolution.
Recently, Shauna’s daughter told her: “Mama, you’re really good at making people feel enthusiastic about life.” Shauna decided to add this comment to her bio, since this is the crux of what matters to her.
To learn more about Shauna and her work, please visit: youcanhavemorejoy.com/
Or, contact her directly at email@example.com.