Life Style

Perspective | Ask Sahaj: The future of the country feels bleak. How can I cope?

Sahaj Kaur Kohli, creator of Brown Girl Therapy and an MA.Ed, will be answering questions about identity, relationships, mental health, work-life balance, family dynamics and more. If you have a question for her, please submit it here.

Dear Sahaj: I am the first-generation daughter of immigrants (I was born in the United States) and in my early 30s. My family and I had a deeply personal, sad conversation following the recent Supreme Court ruling on abortion — about how scared they are for me regarding political changes to come, how this uncertainty will ultimately affect my decisions about children and my safety, and if things might have been different if they had taken different jobs and not immigrated or moved elsewhere.

I am also in a job that is the equivalent of a start-up. While I have a lot of support, I also face professional uncertainty day-to-day. Meanwhile, I’m trying to figure out plans about whether or not I want children, plans about how best to care for my family as they get older, plans for maintaining longer-term financial stability. Spending too long dwelling in the uncertainty just leads to paralyzing indecision and anxiety, but not spending any time trying to navigate these huge life choices also seems like a recipe for unhappiness.

How do I build resilience or navigate the ongoing uncertainty? And does it get easier?

— Everything’s uncertain

Everything’s uncertain: All the things contributing to this sense of being overwhelmed are valid. As a fellow daughter of immigrants, I share in your experience of having tough conversations that shatter the ideals we, and our parents, may have internalized.

Uncertainty is especially difficult because we don’t know what’s going to happen — and yet we try really hard to prepare for all the outcomes. In this case, a lot of what you are experiencing is shifting an imagined future for yourself. You are navigating an anticipatory grief regarding what has been taken from you and what may potentially continue to be taken from you.

It’s important to find ways to take care of yourself through the uncertainty, especially because it can increase feelings of anxiety. When that happens, it’s imperative to find ways to return your body to baseline, even momentarily. This can include self-soothing exercises and self-care, like practicing micro-strategies of resting, breathing, journaling, moving and nourishing yourself every day. Also consider how social media or your consumption of news might be derailing your wellness: We’re not meant to be absorbing negative things 24/7, and your self-care is tied directly to your capacity to continue.

And remember: It’s okay to take some time to sit in your grief before deciding to get up and carry on.

Going forward, it will be important to shift your goals to plan for the reality that is rather than the reality that was. Can you break down your long-term goals into smaller, short-term goals and then break those down even further into realistic goals for the present?

It’s true that you can control only so much, but rather than letting that lead to hopelessness, try to engage how those parts of your agency can be meaningful or purposeful. I am reminded of Viktor Frankl’s term “tragic optimism,” or optimism in the face of tragedy. This involves finding meaning and purpose, and rooting deeper into your values.

Cultivating hope is also a building block for being resilient. It can be difficult to have hope when things feel so bleak. Consider what you can control and the influence you do have in your own life. You worry for your safety and your security. These are valid. But paralysis is inaction and will only deepen your sense of hopelessness.

Hope, meanwhile, looks different for everyone. Consider asking loved ones what they are hopeful for and where they seek hope. This might encourage you to find additional/alternative spaces to discover it. Turning to general history, or specifically your family’s history, can also help you root yourself in intergenerational strength and resilience.

It’s important to recognize that while resilience is an important psychological tool, it can also be a double-edged sword. In some cases, people shouldn’t have to be resilient, and it’s okay to be angry at the institutional systems that are causing the issues we face today.

Make room for both/and. This looks like allowing yourself to feel and explore the gratitude for the resources, opportunities and access you have because your parents immigrated here and allowing yourself to feel betrayed, angry and lacking of pride for living here. It’s okay to embrace the mixed emotions coming up for you. In fact, you should name them and explore them.

Does it get easier? I am not so sure. But instead of focusing on how hard navigating the uncertainty right now is, focus on building a sense of trust and belief in yourself to figure things out.

Take responsibility for what you can plan and control, and take care in the face of adversity.

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