British Columbia

Let's face it, B.C. headlines are sad. How can we be happy during such dark times?

As bad news piles on in B.C., it’s important to try to find a way to maintain our mental health.

Experts say finding meaning in a situation can help alleviate sadness

Keeping up with what's going on in B.C., can be overwhelming, but experts say finding meaning in the sadness can help lift your spirits. (KieferPix / Shutterstock)

There is no denying the past two years have been a challenge for British Columbians, what with wildfires devastating entire communities, floods destroying homes and lives, First Nations taking on the difficult work of searching for the unmarked gravesites of their own people and family members and an ongoing, ever-changing, global pandemic.

It's all a little overwhelming to say the least.

Now more than ever, it's important to take care of ourselves and each other and find ways to see the good in the world as we muddle our way through so much that is bad.

The links between psychological well-being and physical health are well documented, and studies have shown chronic health issues can arise as a result of poor mental health but how does one find a way to be less depressed in the face of so much bad news. 

Eric Kim, an assistant professor of psychology at UBC, says it's important to acknowledge what's going on in the world and in your province or even your neighbourhood, rather than ignoring it.

He said once he's acknowledged and accepted what's going on around him, he looks for meaning in the situation, or a way he can use his skills to help better the world.

"When we look back upon times of social upheaval, wars and pandemics and all kinds of disasters, people do find solace in finding some type of meaning in a situation," he said. 

He said finding meaning in these circumstances can make pain and suffering less relevant.

For many, it comes in the form of building community.

Kim referenced a heat wave in Chicago during the summer of 1995, which killed hundreds of people. Two neighbouring communities had very different rates of survival, and the one that fared better was the one that had better social infrastructure.

John Threlfall is a community organizer in Victoria, B.C., and said for him, focusing on progress at a hyper-local level helps him see the light during dark days.

"It's building community where you can, with what you've got and sharing things with other people," he said. 

Meaning for others comes in the form of spending time outside and reflecting on nature and our connection to what's going on around us.

Gardener Valerie Murray went into the garden following heavy rainfall in November to begin the clean up.

"The perennials were all knocked down and we started cutting them back,"  she said. "As soon as we cleared back the old muck, there was brand new growth and it sort of just lifts your heart."

"Nature is forgiving and that's always reassuring."

Vancouver psychologist Dr. Carla Fry, known on social media as one half of @clinicallyhappy, agrees that community building helps with muddling through the sadness. 

"Within peoples' normal reach in their lives, it helps their own mood and helps community to do small things for each other," she said.

She shared her top three tips for those trying to stay happy while taking in disheartening information: 

Control what you can

With flooding, we can't stop the rain, save animals or crops. With the pandemic, we can't control restrictions or new strains. 

However, people can control the kindness they put into the world — through community building — even in simple ways, such as opening the door for someone else or posting something positive on social media.

"If it's talking to somebody else who's having a hard time and helping them have hope, that counts. If you have time on your hands and you can volunteer ... that counts," she said.

Mental health math

Fry said that for every negative thought we have, we need up to nine positive thoughts to balance things out. 

Those positive things can be on a micro level, such as appreciating soft, fuzzy socks or paying attention to the happiness you feel when petting a dog. 

"Paying attention to anything that is good will help outweigh the negative," Fry said. "It won't wipe it out, but it's something that we can all do."

Mindful information consumption

It can be easy to scroll through social media for hours on end, but Fry said it's important to understand how long it really takes to be up to date on need-to-know information and how many sources an individual needs to get their news from. 

This is different for everyone, but she said being mindful of what your boundaries and needs are is key.

"Do it on purpose, in a way that meets your goals to be informed, to be reassured. Whatever it is, do it on purpose."

She recommends taking in the news when you have the energy and supports to help build you back up afer reading or hearing sad things.

LISTEN | CBC's On the Island hears from three people about searching for meaning during dark times

With files from On the Island


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