As 2020 begins, find refuges to preserve your sanity

Dave Barry’s Dec. 29 column adroitly captured the mayhem and insanity of 2019, but within its humorous context, didn’t offer any promise that 2020 will be any different. I’m certainly not a mental health professional, but I’d like to offer some tried and tested “sanity preservers,’ or refuges, from today’s incomprehensively bizarre world. Perhaps we can embark upon 2020 with 20/20 vision, or something close to it.

Some might call this approach “escapism,” but I liken it to a life boat to survive an angry sea of government dysfunction, societal discontent, global tension and endless violence.

But first, here are some things to avoid, or only peruse on a limited basis: TV cable networks such as CNN, MSNBC and Fox News; radio talk shows; and social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others.

Bastions of sanity might include reading. There is a broad range of fiction and nonfiction available today, and quite easy to order online. I prefer non-fiction adventure, survival and mountaineering stories, or science-based books on developing technologies. Book clubs are a good way to socialize and share reading experiences.

Movies can be therapeutic, and with online streaming services, we don’t have to take out a loan at the bank to afford a movie theater ticket.

My most effective sanctuary is to venture outdoors, year-round. While advancing age is slowing me some, I still engage in a variety of activities that include hiking, biking, mountain climbing, cross-country skiing and ice skating. And if the snow is right, like it was on Dec. 30, I like to help my granddaughter build a snowman in our back yard.

Partaking in these kinds of activities with family and friends is ideal, but if you can’t find anyone, there are organized groups that venture out. A couple that I know about are through the Eagle River Nature Center and the Mountaineering Club of Alaska.

As we know, mind and body work together, so simply exercising in a health club or gym is a good way to keep oneself buttressed against the stress of life’s calamities. I know people who practice yoga and meditate, and they say it keeps them on track.

There are plenty of opportunities in our community for volunteering; either through churches, social service agencies and nonprofit organizations. Getting outside of ourselves and helping others, I’ve found, is a great way to keep oneself on an even keel in tumultuous times.

Hobbies also offer a great prescription for winter blues, or any other kind of mental doldrums. Music has always been a great release for me, but if my piano could talk, it would demand that I receive lessons. Astronomy and writing are also outlets for me, but I truly admire folks who can do things with their hands: wood work, crafts or, actually build and repair things. I have a friend in Juneau who restores cars, and I know it is tremendously satisfying for him. Another friend restores airplanes.

A midwinter trip to lower latitudes is another great release, but with the kind of “freeze-thaw” anomalies we’ve been experiencing in recent years, I’ve also considered a winter vacation to the mountains of Colorado or to Iceland, where I can find white, fluffy snow.

When I was young, my father emphasized I should never “follow the pack,” and that I should think independently. With today’s 24-hour barrage of information that deviously includes misinformation and untruths, that’s a tall order. That’s why I suggest stepping back, taking some deep breaths, listening to the inner voice and embarking on activities that simply nourish the soul.

I hate to think it, but 2020 will probably unleash upon us another tidal wave of frustrating, off-the-wall, weird events to rival or even surpass 2019. The best thing we can do is employ redirection — fleeing to the “sanity refuges” listed above — and, I’m sure, some I haven’t included.

Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River with his wife Rebekah, a retired elementary school teacher.

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