Micheline Maalouf is an Arab-American therapist who helps clients work through trauma and anxiety.
She recommends recharging your batteries with nourishing activities before following the news, if you choose to do so.
Having a good support system and pausing before responding are also helpful when things get heated.
This is an as-told-to essay based on a conversation with Micheline Maalouf, a Syrian-Lebanese immigrant and mental health therapist. The essay has been edited for length and clarity.
I'm an Arab-American therapist and content creator for mental health, helping people work through trauma and anxiety.
When I first heard the news about the Israel-Hamas attacks this month, I was shocked, but also not too shocked. We've heard this happening over and over again throughout our lifetime as Arab Americans who've lived in the Middle East.
I became glued to following what was happening and making sure I was providing support to my community as well.
The war has brought back trauma, like flashbacks to the Iraq War and 9/11. I've always had a feeling that others viewed me as "less-than," as strange or exotic. I was bullied extensively in elementary and middle school and felt this deep shame, so much so that at one point I pretended I was Latina and told my friends I was visiting Europe when I was really visiting family in the Middle East.
It didn't help that the media portrayed us as terrorists or suffering under severe poverty and didn't show the beautiful side of our culture — the hospitality, the open-mindedness. It didn't humanize us.
Therapists are made from trauma. It's always adversities that lead us to empathy that then leads us to wanting to help others. Growing up and feeling like my identity was just wrong — I feel like that was a big reason why I chose to become a therapist.
Here's my advice on how members of the diaspora and children of immigrants can cope with news consumption right now.
You don't need to stop reading the news…
It's not about stopping your consumption of the news. I think a lot of people watching from afar, knowing that family members or people like them are trapped in this situation, feel a lot of guilt and helplessness.
And so they're consuming the news because it's almost like they can't look away, like, "How can I look away? Because if I look away, then somehow I'm ignoring what's happening."
But I don't think we should look away. That would never be my advice. We should completely keep looking and keep speaking up, but we have to remember we cannot keep speaking up and do that work if we're not replenishing ourselves.
… but recharge your batteries
Ask yourself: What builds you up? What recharges your battery? That could mean crying. That could be doing action-based things like donating or attending a protest or rally. That could be talking to somebody else who gets it, or just laying down and allowing yourself to fall asleep. Or listening to music, writing, drawing, making art.
These activities replenish you so you can recharge that battery, so that when you come back, you're not fully burned out and causing more trauma to yourself. We cannot be effective advocates or supporters if we are drained ourselves.
A lot of times, these oppressive systems are designed to make us exhausted, to forget about what's happening. That's why it's super important to not look away, but find ways to keep that battery running at a steady pace because you need it for yourself, and the people you're supporting need it, too.
Surround yourself with support
Having a good support system has been so helpful for me personally, whether they're family or friends.
Sometimes, we can also find a lot of support online. I've found support from finding videos and content from like-minded people. I've been reading comments from people that are feeling what I'm feeling.
Community is really important, whether online or in real-life.
Take a breath before responding
Sometimes the things that people say can be very triggering or painful, and sometimes we want to fight back. I felt that way yesterday, when somebody I thought was a friend sent me a message accusing me of being a terrorist.
My initial instinct was to fight back. But I called my brother and a friend and was like, "How do I respond to this?" That helped a lot because they validated my experience, and we came up with a way to respond in a kind and gentle manner.
Pausing before responding is important because we cannot fight fire with fire. The only way we get people to see us as humans, or to even empathize, is to be kind. It's very valid to be angry and frustrated and fight back, but it's not always the best option.
One of my biggest tips would be to take a breath. You don't have to respond right away. Think about it, get some advice, and then come back to it.
Keep fighting, keep advocating, keep speaking up. Replenish yourself, but also show the good, not just the bad.
Read the original article on Insider