When Breaking News is Breaking You
Experiencing a trauma response to bad world news? Here are a few tips that can help you cope.
The current climate crisis, the ongoing attack on women’s rights in the US, daily accounts of violence, discrimination… and the list unfortunately goes on. Depressing stuff? Absolutely. The thing is, our world has always had its problems, only now the upsetting information is more readily available than ever.
If you are an avid twitter and social media user like me, then you know all too well that world news can be at your fingertips in seconds without even having to seek it out. Though we might like to be informed and aware of what’s happening around us, the reality is that human minds are not equipped to deal with the impact of the tragedies we hear about daily. Why? Our brains automatically release stress hormones as a way to deal with the stressful, negative-emotion-provoking information. Consistently being exposed to bad news means we are also constantly experiencing the adverse biological effects. Consequently, our mental health is going to suffer. In other words, it’s normal to feel anxious, worried, depressed, sad, helpless, powerless, confused, and angry in response to bad world news.
So, what can you do to protect your mental health?
Unplug and Log out
The first and most obvious thing you can try is to cut off the source of information. If you’re struggling to navigate through all the upsetting tweets, take a break from twitter. If you’re holding back tears after scrolling through Facebook, it’s probably time to logout and refresh. It’s really as simple as that, though it’s easier said than done. Given that our lives are dominated by technology much of the time, cutting it off entirely can be challenging, so taking breaks is absolutely necessary to maintain your mental health. Try setting boundaries for yourself so you’re only checking the news once or twice a day, and definitely not before bedtime. Taking breaks from being always in the loop does NOT make you a bad person.
Undo the physiological effects
Thanks to our sympathetic nervous system, reading or hearing about something awful or stressful is likely to trigger some uncomfortable feelings (anxiety, worry, fear) along with the associated sensations, such as quick, shallow breathing, a shortness of breath, and an increase in heart rate. When this happens, it’s time to activate the parasympathetic nervous system to reverse the physiological effects. Pause for a second. Take slow, controlled breaths. The act of deep breathing sends a message to the body to decrease the stress hormones, and allows our heart rate and blood pressure to decrease with our slower, deeper breaths. When we feel less stressed physically, our minds can follow.
Seek out some positive to counteract the negative
Everything requires balance. When all things around you seem to be terrible (even though it’s not actually all bad), you’ve got to seek out the positive stuff. There’s actually a website dedicated to positive news, and you can access that here. Another thing to try is counteracting some of that negative energy by doing something positive. You can try volunteering, paying it forward however you can (like buying for the person behind you), donating your old clothing or other household items, complimenting someone, or anything else you can think of that might bring some more goodness into the world. The small things always count.
Accept that you can’t always fix it
One of the most bothersome aspects of hearing about large-scale bad news (in my opinion) is the consequential feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. If there is something you can do to help, use the uncomfortable feelings as fuel to get you moving and working towards positive change. However, it can be incredibly overwhelming to realize that bad things are going to happen every day, everywhere in the world, and you won’t be able to change most of it. That’s not to say that we should hang our heads in anguish and become oblivious or ignorant to the struggles of others, it simply means that we need to accept our level of control. We aren’t super heroes.
Try to carry on and distract yourself
Keep calm and carry on. Literally. Though it may be tough at first, especially while you're having to fight the battle of feeling guilty for continuing on with your own life while other people around the world struggle, but you have to. Continue to participate in events you enjoy, keep up with your hobbies, continue to exercise regularly and eat well, hangout with your friends and family, and soon your anxiety regarding the bad news will start to fade. I’d recommend trying out a yoga class, which has extra benefits to calm your worried mind. You can also download the Calm or Headspace app if you’d like to try guided meditations for many of the same mental health benefits. No matter what, it’s absolutely imperative to continue to take care of yourself and meet your basic needs.
Talk it out
One simple rule of thumb is that if something is bothering you, that’s ALWAYS enough of a reason to talk about it. Holding it in or avoiding your thoughts altogether only prolongs the negative emotion(s). At the same time, don’t feel obligated to talk to others (small talk) about things that are occurring in the news if doing so will exacerbate your anxious thoughts. If you’re overwhelmed, call on your support system and ask them if you can vent. Chat with your friends, family, or a therapist about how the bad news is affecting you.
Allow yourself to feel, and then allow those feelings to pass
You don’t need to figure out why something upsets you to allow yourself to feel however you need to feel. Being compassionate human beings means that more often than not, we will experience mental stress after a bad event whether we ourselves are impacted by the tragedy or not. It’s important to not take on the pain of others by being too empathic, though, so we must maintain our boundaries and practice compassion without overdoing it. Accept how you feel, and then give yourself permission to allow the feelings to pass.
Experiencing a trauma response to the bad world news is totally normal and can be manageable with the tips I’ve mentioned above. That said, if the negative emotions become too much to handle, please do your mental health a favour and ask for help. You don’t have to deal with it alone (thanks to where I work, I have 10 therapists to help me cope!)
In the meantime, remember to care for yourself, care for others, and seek out the positivity in the world. Because it’s still there.
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