As I’ve watched all of the media reports and videos of the oil uncontrollably gushing into the sea, the decaying marshlands, and the suffering or dead wildlife, the profound sense of sadness, anger, helplessness, and disappointment that I felt after 9/11 returned.
I don’t feel it all the time—it’s not clinical depression. It’s just strong negative emotion associated with the fact that both 9/11 and the oil spill were man-made disasters that could have been prevented.
Even though a small percentage of the people in the world seem to have nothing but evil in their hearts, my underlying belief that humanity is basically good has never changed. The problem is that it takes only a few greedy or hateful fellow humans to do a whole hell of a lot of damage. And I’m still concerned that the implications of the oil spill are going to be very severe and long lasting. It’s likely going to impact many generations to come.
Although I’m upset about this catastrophe, I know that I am not alone in how I feel. I also realize that it must be far worse for those living along the shores of the Gulf as well of those who make their livings in tourism or fishing in the affected areas.
So, what I’ve been wondering quite a bit about is—what can we do about the Gulf oil spill? Most of us are not in positions to directly “fix” it.
I think the answer will be different for each person, but here’s what I think is most important: Do something! Be proactive. Doing something helps to decrease one’s sense of helplessness.
1. Donate money or volunteer. Gizmodo recently published a very practical article in which they provided links to numerous organizations where one can provide either of these forms of assistance. I’d definitely recommend checking it out. Of course this is the most “hands on,” immediate approach to doing something directly about the disaster. But, it’s not the only possible approach.
2. Pick one small way to conserve energy or to be less wasteful, and stick to it. I think that in many ways conserving energy is similar to being smart with your money. That is, save your money, spend it on things that really matter to you, and forgo all of those less important purchases. Likewise, spend the earth’s resources wisely and on things that matter to you. If we all made just one small change in our consumption habits, we could have a huge collective impact. The risk we run right now is people doing nothing about the oil spill because they believe that their small changes won’t matter.
3. Be a good role model for children (as well as adults). If you walk around anxiously obsessing about the event, children around you will likely become emotionally distraught and frightened, too. Instead, if you have kids, discuss the event in age-appropriate terms with them. Then work together to find ways to be less wasteful or to do something else positive.
4. Take care of yourself; get professional help if you need it. Exercise, get enough sleep, socialize, and stick to your usual routine as much as possible. If you find that no matter how hard you try you’re still not functioning well because of the oil spill, then consider seeking professional help.
5. Stay informed without poisoning your mind. Watch or read the news about the oil spill just enough so that you know what’s going on. But, don’t spend hours in front of cable news or surfing the web to read about it. Doing so will only make you feel worse, and it won’t have any positive impact on anything or anybody.
Jeffrey Knuppel is a psychiatrist who blogs at The Positive Medical Blog.
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