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15 things to do when the world feels terrifying.

Small things you can do every day to make your world feel a little bit less hopeless.

Laquan MacDonald was 17 when he was murdered by a Chicago police officer. I watched a video of his death made public, along with most of America, between reading about how Americans are terrified to let refugees from war-torn Syria into our country, and reading about how a man with a rifle opened fire at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado.

I couldn't think of anything else to say that hadn't already been said about how horrible and sad and awful and bleak and unfathomable all those things are.


So instead, here are 15 things you can do every day to make your world just the tiniest bit better.

1. Open your closet.

Find one warm piece of clothing you haven't worn in awhile. Bring it to a place that will give it away, for free, to someone who needs it.

2. Go to a public park or playground. Sit on a bench.

Watch some kids running around playing. Don't get up and try to engage with them, don't depress yourself further, don't go down a sadhole if you want kids but don't have them, or if your own relationship with your kids or parents isn't perfect. Just … sit and watch. Turn your brain off for a bit.

Photo via iStock.

If your brain has to work, picture the way that a kid's body works: the air filling the lungs and expelling laughter, the tiny heartbeat pulsing and racing, the immense number of neurons firing to process the information that keeps their eyes blinking and ears listening and skin tingling and lungs expanding and contracting.

If you see a parent looking stressed out, give them an encouraging smile, as if to say, "You're doing a great job."

3. Think of a song you love, preferably by a non-super-famous musician.

Even if you already own it, download it again. Think about how your 99 cents is actually telling the musician that their work has value.

4. Buy an e-gift card.

There are several Dunkin' Donuts in the general area of Sullivan House High School, the alternative school in Chicago's South Side where Laquan MacDonald was enrolled. It's probably been a tough time for the teachers and the students both. Buy an e-gift card, and send the link to the faculty. Tell them a stranger bought them coffee.

5. Google a small business florist near the site of any recent tragedy.

Call and explain that you'd like to pay for flowers to be sent to, say, the staff of the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs (3480 Centennial Boulevard, Colorado Springs, CO 80907) or to Hope Church (5740 Academy Blvd N, Colorado Springs, CO 80918), where slain police officer Garrett Swasey and his family were members.

Folk expressed their emotions following the Boston bombing by mailing thousands of flower bouquets to the city and bringing them to the sites of the explosions. Photo by Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

When you leave a note, don't make it about you, or your political or religious beliefs. Leave it anonymous or simply say, "From a stranger who thought you might be sad today."

6. Leave a copy of your favorite book in a public place.

Trust that the right person will find it.

7. Locate your nearest animal shelter.

You don't need to adopt a pet, and you don't need go in and volunteer, although that's a really nice thing you can do too. You can just look at the puppies and kittens playing for awhile or feel what it's like to hold a tiny, furry, purring creature in your arms for a bit.

9. Think of the kindest person you know personally.

Write them an email, letting them know that you thought of them and hope they are doing well.

Photo via iStock.

8. Here's a link to Amazon, where you can buy a 10-pack of socks for $9.99.

Click the link. When you're asked for your shipping address, find the address of a homeless shelter in your community. If you don't have a homeless shelter in your community, here's mine.

10. Buy an extra box of tampons the next time you're out shopping.

Leave them in the ladies' room of your workplace for anyone to take. (If you're a dude and this weirds you out, talk to this 15-year-old kid about it).

11. Think about the people that you frequently interact with in your daily life but know very little about.

Maybe it's the barista who works at your coffee shop, the janitor in your building, or your mail person. Introduce yourself. Call them by name whenever you see them again.

12. Go to a diner.

Order a milkshake. Tip 10 dollars.

Photo via iStock.

13. Buy a pile of index cards and a sharpie.

Write down, "You are Important" or "Breathe." Carry them with you as you go about your day, leaving them in waiting room magazines, on car windshields, in elevators, in bathroom stalls. Keep one for yourself. We all need the reminder sometimes too.

14. Dig up an embarrassing photo of yourself from your teenage years.

Post it online. Laugh gently at the person you were, and celebrate the human you are now. If you're still in the process of living through your teenage years, take lots of pictures. You're doing great.

15. Think. Think about the fact that the world can sometimes feel like a flaming cesspool of garbage.

Think about everyone in your zip code who is homeless and hungry, cold, terrified, and lonely. Think about global warming, handguns and assault rifles, violence on television, rape statistics, domestic abuse. Think about terrorism, both domestic and abroad. Think about petty cruelty. Think about your childhood schoolyard bully. Think about the times that you won the argument but lost the friendship.

Think about all the times you got too busy and didn't visit your relatives like you said you would or didn't give the dollar in the checkout line because times are rough and who even knows what the March of Dimes is. Think about how you don't want to think about who grows your food or makes your clothes or pieces your iPhone together, because in the world we inhabit, it's virtually impossible to exist without making some kind of ethical compromises.

Think about the 7 billion other people people out there in the world. Think about the average 318,000 births today or the 133,000 deaths.

Think about how enormously complicated all of this is.

Think about how Mother Teresa accepted funds from corrupt embezzlers, how George Bush is an oil painter, a husband, a father, and a war criminal. Think about Princess Diana's life's work of charity and goodwill; remember also that she was depressed, lived through bulimia, and self-harmed. Name five celebrities, and then imagine them in the morning, with horse breath and red-rimmed eyes, stumbling to splash water on their face, just like you and me.

And remember, amidst all this, there are tons of incredibly easy, tiny ways to make the world a slightly less shitty place for everyone.

Take a deep breath of gratitude for the people out there who actually do make the world a better place. Challenge yourself to be that person, in whatever small way you can manage right now.

Photo via iStock.

Close your browser window. Shut down your laptop. Silence your cell phone. Just for a minute, before you go back to Netflix, before you text someone, before you answer more emails or meet friends for drinks or order a pizza or whatever it is that you're doing today: Just for a second, take a moment to remember that the world can be pretty magical sometimes, and you're really lucky to be alive in it.

Do what you can.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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