With heavy news cycles, it’s easy to see how staying informed can come at a cost to your mental health. But it doesn’t have to be that way
In today’s world of constant connectivity, there’s little avoiding the news. Rolling news coverage, and countless online media outlets, mean it’s on our screens, and at our fingertips, 24 hours a day. But sometimes the realities of what’s happening around the world can be just too overwhelming.
In fact, research published in Science Advances shows that media exposure is linked to higher levels of psychological distress, and can exacerbate feelings of stress, anxiety, and helplessness. Tani Taylor, a hypnotherapist and psychotherapist, notes that people who are predisposed to anxiety and depression may be more negatively affected by news coverage than others, too.
If you’re someone who is feeling the effects of a distressing news cycle right now, you might be facing a moral dilemma: stay informed about the traumatic events that are happening around the world, or shield yourself from it to protect your mental health.
Want to strike a balance between the two? Try the following:
When watching distressing events unfold, you may feel helpless to do anything about it, but finding a way to be of service can go some way to alleviating this sense of powerlessness.
“Look at what realistic action you can take that could benefit whatever cause you are seeing on the news, like taking part in a shoebox collection, or donating to an official charity,” advises Taylor. “Taking action like this is far more helpful to people who need your support, than making yourself unwell in a state of anxiety, stress, and overwhelm.”
Be conscious about what you consume
For Taylor, striking the right balance is about proper planning. She suggests setting aside a specific amount of time each day or week to pay attention to the news. You could decide that you’ll only scan the headlines during your lunch break, or choose to only watch the news three times a week.
“This way you’re not stopping your exposure completely; you’re still following what is happening without being in a constant trauma state, which is unhealthy for you,” she explains.
Consider reading the news, instead of watching it
Have you ever felt shaken and unsettled after a scary film? Watching a distressing news report can elicit a similar response.
“Our brain has two main control features, our intellect – that can look at a situation and recognise how much it affects us directly – and our limbic system – that fight/flight response that doesn’t have the ability to look at rhyme or reason, just knee-jerk responses to ensure your survival,” Taylor explains.
“The trauma we’re exposed to in the media can be perceived as trauma we are experiencing in real life, and this can cause our bodies and minds to have a psychological and physical response.”
Taylor says if you want to keep up-to-date, consider picking up a paper, or reading the news online instead. Reading about events isn’t as traumatising as seeing the images played out on-screen.
Pay attention to unhelpful thoughts
Have you started catastrophising and imagining worst case scenarios?
“Our survival response often has us negatively forecasting our future. This is a protective mechanism, but sometimes it can spin out of control,” says Taylor.
When this happens, you might be consumed with feelings of worry, dread, and overwhelm. Taylor says the key is to recognise when you’re catastrophising and to lean into those emotions. You can begin by questioning the validity of your thoughts, and writing down a list of facts that you know to be true.
“When we write down what we know to be absolute truth, this can help us to distinguish the facts from the overwhelming list of possibilities flying around our heads,” Taylor explains.
Take a news break and spend it wisely
Most of us know that, when it comes to the news, it’s helpful to take a break, but these intentions can fall flat if we don’t actively schedule one in.
“Choose when you are going to have a news break, and decide to replace that time with something that is good for your mental health,” Taylor advises.
That might mean watching a familiar show that offers you comfort, going to therapy, or spending time with friends. Prioritising rest and relaxation can be particularly beneficial.
“If you’re very anxious, try listening to a guided relaxation that incorporates helpful breathing techniques,” Taylor advises.
You might feel guilty for taking a breather from the news, but looking out for yourself first and foremost means you can be of more help to others, and find proactive ways to help those who are in need.
If the news is affecting your mental health, visit counselling Directory to find out about healthy coping strategies, or speak to a qualified counsellor.