I wonder if this situation is familiar to you. You wake up in the morning and figure it’s time to check the news. You turn on your phone and hear about terrible things that are happening. Wildfires, gun violence, hate crimes, a contentious political and social environment. All of the sudden you feel your heart begin to race, and you go from feeling perfectly fine a moment ago to feeling worried and sad.
If this situation resonates with you, you are not alone. A recent article in TIME magazine (see link below) indicates that “more than half of Americans say the news causes them stress, and many report feeling anxiety, fatigue or sleep loss as a result.” In this article, Professor Graham Davey from the University of Sussex also discusses his research finding that the mood shift following news consumption can even heighten personal worries that are not directly related to the news stories.
Tips for Coping
Sure, it is important stay informed. However, that does not necessarily mean it’s helpful or necessary to check the news throughout the whole day. One way to limit consumption could be to block out a specific time to check the news each day. Just remember to avoid setting this time to be before going to bed, as it could disrupt your sleep.
Look out for catastrophic thinking
Hearing about something terrible happening may trigger worrying about a worst case scenario, also known as a catastrophic thought. For instance, cognitive psychology research finds that a low probability occurrence (such as a plane accident) is often rated as much more probable when there is media coverage of a high profile accident. When noticing yourself engaging in catastrophic thinking, it can be helpful to label your thought as such and remind yourself that probability is on your side.
Challenge negative thinking
It can be helpful to remember that the news mostly focuses on negative events, which could trigger viewing the world through a more negative lens. To challenge this negative thinking bias you could try:
Thinking or reading about positive and inspirational stories including acts of kindness and heroism.
Engaging in a gratitude exercise by writing down three things in your life you are grateful for today.
Honor and acknowledge your feelings
When hearing about painful events happening around you, it makes sense to have strong emotional reactions. It may be helpful to take some time to reflect about your feelings, and talk to someone such as a friend, family member, or therapist.
Accept what is not under your control
Hearing about scary things happening on the news can make you come face to face with something that is very difficult to swallow – that there are many things in life for which you lack control.
Sometimes people try to gain a sense of control by worrying excessively, being hypervigilant, or hiding away from the world. Although these behaviors may initially feel protective, ultimately these strategies will be ineffective as they maintain anxiety and limit one’s ability to lead a full and meaningful life.
Focus on what you can do
Engage in good self-care – go on a hike, write in your journal, do something creative (e.g., coloring or drawing, etc.) Figure out what will be rejuvenating for you.
Practice Mindfulness – get out of your head and back to the present moment by focusing on your breath, body sensations, or surroundings.
Get involved – volunteer to help out at a local organization or charity, or provide a donation.
Set value-driven goals – while you never know what you will face in life, you can control how you choose to respond and use your time. Make the most of every day by identifying what you value most and working towards goals that are aligned with those values.