How can I be ok when the world is terrible?

Let’s be honest: The world can be a pretty terrible place. From personal losses to national tragedies and global disasters and everything in between… It’s easy to feel depressed about the state of the world.

Just thinking about the sheer amount of awfulness around us can be completely overwhelming—even paralyzing. The problems are far too big for any single person to solve them. So what can you do? Should you do anything? Should you give up? Is there any “should” to begin with?

It’s normal to feel discouraged about the world.

You may have heard this expression: “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” It’s not just anger—the same goes for depression. Research has shown that people who feel depressed often make more accurate predictions of events that people who don’t [1]. Lots of bad things happen in the world, and feeling bad about it is a normal reaction. It’s okay to feel:

  • Grief about what’s been lost
  • Anxious about what’s going to happen next
  • Overwhelmed by how big the problems are, or how much work it will take to solve them
  • Disillusioned by the people in positions of power
  • Guilty for not doing more
  • Paralyzed by all these feelings

These feelings are all normal. Of course, they’re not fun. And they’re not always particularly useful. Depression may help you clearly see how terrible things are—but it’s also the leading cause of disability in the world [2].

Equally unhelpful: being told to “just stay positive.” Ignoring the horrible things you see around you won’t make them go away, any more than getting depressed about them will. If you want to function in the world and make it a better place, you need to take care of yourself—and then find ways to help however you can.

Is it selfish to prioritize my own mental health?

The desire to help make the world a better place is an incredible thing. If you notice what’s going wrong in the world and feel a responsibility to make it better, that says something really positive about who you are.

You’re still one person. And your ability to make a positive difference is affected by your mental health. If you’re so discouraged you can hardly get out of bed, it’s going to be hard to make a big impact.

  • Make time for self-care. Sometimes you need to drop the volunteer work and take a bubble bath. Don’t feel bad about the fact that you’re doing something for you. That bubble bath will help you feel refreshed and valued. When you’re ready, you’ll have more of yourself to give.
  • Make space for gratitude. The world kinda sucks—but it’s also kind of beautiful. You don’t have to ignore the bad things to see the good things.
  • Acknowledge negative emotions without dwelling on them. Our negative emotions are there to guide and protect us. They motivate us to make changes. It’s when we fixate on them that they start to take over. If you’re having trouble moving on, consider whether you might need treatment for a mental health condition like depression or anxiety.

Balance being informed with being mentally healthy.

You can’t be “on” all the time. Thinking nonstop about the problems in the world is only going to wear you down. You need to take breaks. Here are a few ways you can do that:

  • Set limits on your news and social media time. Looking at the news for a few hours a week is a great way to stay informed. Looking at the news nonstop is a great way to get depressed.
  • Focus on things you can control. We each have our own circle of influence. There are things I can change that you can’t—but there are also things you can change that I can’t. Your circle of influence depends on lots of things: What you feel passionate about. Where you live. What skills or knowledge you have. Whether you have more time than money, or more money than time.
  • Don’t try to save the whole world all at once. Start where you are, and take one step towards making a bigger difference. That step might be starting to volunteer for an hour a week. Or donating $5 to a cause you care about. Or sharing a post on social media. Or, it might be going back to step one: take care of yourself!

Find other people who care about the same things.

Not many things are lonelier than watching the world burn when no one around you can see it. Find someone else who can see it, and talk to them about it. Solving the biggest problems in the world is going to require cooperation. That starts with simply connecting over shared interests.

There are lots of ways to surround yourself with like-minded people. The Internet is a great place to start—there are subreddits and hashtags for all sorts of causes. Or look for a place to volunteer. If you’re in school, find a club—or start one!

Some people are fortunate enough to find a workplace where people care about making a difference. And don’t discount your friends and family. They might not understand... but some of them may surprise you if you give them a chance.

The world won’t get fixed just by talking about it, but talking about it is a great first step. And “one step at a time” is exactly how things get better.

References

  1. Moore & Fresco. (2012). Depressive realism: A meta-analytic review. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2012.05.004
  2. World Health Organization. (2020). Depression. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression

Treatment & Resources