How to ground yourself after seeing distressing news

Emily Whitton
By Emily Whitton,
updated on Oct 19, 2023

Person sat on a bench reading a newspaper.

We’re sharing some techniques to keep yourself grounded during periods of uncertainty and distressing events that unfold in the news 

In recent years, it’s perhaps felt that the news has brought with it more discomfort than positivity. The world has witnessed natural disasters, political upheaval, a pandemic, climate concerns, a cost of living crisis and wars. Nowadays, with the rise of social media and 24/7 streaming, it can feel like it’s impossible to escape the complex reality. Whilst keeping informed with the news can be helpful, and in some cases empowering, seemingly endless bouts of uncertainty can take its toll on our mental health. 

It’s completely natural to feel a mix of emotions during periods of unrest. You may feel:

  • anxious or worried 
  • sad and upset
  • hopeless
  • overwhelmed 
  • confused
  • scared, afraid or unsafe 
  • angry

It’s important to remember that the news affects each of us and the way that we feel differently. Some people might choose to keep up to date with stories as they unfold, but you shouldn’t feel pressured to do so or guilty for taking that step aside to protect your wellbeing. 

What is news anxiety? 

We can encounter news even when we’re not actively looking for it. Whether it’s on our TVs, a notification on our phones or we stumble across it on our social media feed, it can make it difficult to switch off from the headlines. In order to be armed with the appropriate knowledge to effectively digest the events we’re told about, we need to be prepared to manage the potential stress it can cause. 

When we’re continuously exposed to these stories, with little time to process them properly, this exacerbates the stress we’re more likely to feel. Learning about negative news can increase levels of cortisol in the body (our stress hormone). This information overload can cause us to become anxious, often having an adverse effect. Rather than avoiding it, we can become so consumed by the news that we develop unhealthy habits such as:

How can we cope with distressing events in the news? 

If you feel distressed or anxious by the events that we’re seeing in the news, you may find the following helpful in keeping yourself grounded:

1. Acknowledge your emotions 

Before taking steps to try to calm ourselves, it’s important to recognise and come to terms with how we’re feeling. Understanding that it’s normal to feel anxious, stressed, overwhelmed or angry can be a useful first step in knowing what we need to do to manage these emotions. 

2. Manage your social media usage 

There are several ways you can limit your exposure to the news through social media. You could set yourself limits so you only check it at certain times of the day, mute notifications and consider who you’re following. If you’re finding that things keep cropping up in your feed, unfollowing certain people or pages can help reduce your exposure to it. 

3. Focus on the facts 

Make sure that the information you’re digesting is from trusted, reliable sources and is based on fact, not hearsay. This doesn’t mean that the facts are going to be any easier to process, but you can arm yourself with information that can be substantiated, rather than worrying about events that may be untrue. 

4. Seek out positive news stories 

It’s easy to let negative stories cloud the positives but try to remember that there is always something good happening in the world. At Happiful, we regularly share good news stories so that you can find something to make you smile. You can also follow people and pages that lift you up. 

5. Focus on what you can control 

This might feel difficult, given that many of the events we’re witnessing are out of our hands. Making a list of things you can control (such as managing your social media use) and those you can’t can be a helpful way to process how you’re feeling. If you feel up to it, you could help in other ways, such as by volunteering or making a donation to a charity in need. Even actions that seem small can help make a big difference. Gov.UK has some practical information on how you can do this safely. 

6. Choose how to respond

Learning about an upsetting event in the news can sometimes leave you feeling isolated. There are several ways that you can respond, including:

  • talking to someone you trust 
  • try mindfulness or meditation
  • do some physical activity such as going for a walk 
  • get involved with your local community 

7. Look after your mental and physical wellbeing 

In the midst of uncertainty, it’s important to continue to look after your physical and mental health. Try to eat a balanced diet, exercise where you can and engage in self-care activities –  whatever that might look like for you. 

8. Seek professional support 

If you’re struggling to keep yourself calm and you feel that you need some additional support, talking to a professional such as a counsellor or therapist can be incredibly helpful, particularly if these feelings are interfering with your daily life. A GP or counsellor can help you understand how you’re feeling and work with you to create a management plan. 

Grounding techniques to calm distressing thoughts 

  • 5-4-3-2-1 method: Notice five things you hear, four things you see, three things you can touch, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. 
  • Imagine yourself boxing up your feelings: Picture your feelings in a bundle and visualise yourself boxing them up. You can also imagine your feelings are a TV show that you dislike and you’re just turning down the volume. This isn’t about suppressing your feelings, but acknowledging that they’re there and allowing them to sit at the back of your mind, not letting them disrupt your daily life. 
  • Visualise a happy place: Negative news can often leave us feeling low. Try to sit quietly for a moment, close your eyes and imagine your happy place. This could be your favourite holiday destination or the home of a loved one. Wherever you have fond memories, bring this to your attention and feel the negative feelings drift away. 
  • Listen to music: Play your favourite song to lift your mood. To really reap the benefits of this, you could pretend you’re hearing it for the first time. Tune into the melody and the lyrics. 
  • Box breathing: When you need to calm anxious thoughts quickly, wherever you are, you can give box breathing a try. This involves breathing in for four seconds, holding the breath for four, breathing out for another four seconds, and holding for four. You can repeat this as many times as you need. 

There can feel like a lot of pressure to keep up with what’s going on in the world and around us, but it’s important to remember that staying informed shouldn’t come at the cost of your mental health. If you feel that you can safely digest events in the news with the help of these strategies and techniques, remember that you don’t need to speak up and showcase what you’re doing to help; you can still be thoughtful offline.

Emily Whitton

By Emily Whitton

Emily Whitton is a Content Creator and Marketing Coordinator at Happiful

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