- Posted by Jon Harju
- On April 22, 2020
In the face of troubling news and uncertainty during an era where the sheer influx of information can feel overwhelming, it’s natural to feel distressed and anxious about the future.
The continual stream of challenging news and social media posts reporting pandemics, violence and crime, economic instability, political conflict and natural disasters are all concerning events that can occupy our thoughts and influence our behaviour.
How does distressing news affect our mental health?
Though we want to stay connected and plugged into the latest global pandemic, political and conflict updates, it can be hard to stay informed without the experience taxing our nervous system and causing stress when so many of these things feel beyond our control. This is closely linked to what scientists call the ‘negativity bias’. Humans are hardwired to seek out and remember bad news. We have evolved to naturally look for the negative to help us respond to signals and potential threats in order to avoid danger.
Studies have also shown that when we learn of bad news, our worry goes further than the content of the news story itself. Research into the psychological effects of television bulletins revealed that negative news coverage causes us to worry about issues in our own lives. Therefore it’s essential to build mental well-being practices and habits that protect us from any cumulative stress and anxiety that we may face.
Supporting the mind and body
Distressing news often leaves us feeling overwhelmed and panicked, so it’s essential to recognize the relationship between our mind and body and the positive impact that physical health can have on our stress levels.
Maintaining good health habits with exercise and nutritious food are things we tend to neglect when our stress takes over. So try to have healthy food options on hand, and make time for calm-inducing activities in your day, such as walking, yoga, mediation, and reading, to name a few.
Maintain your social connections
Social connections with our friends, family, and co-workers are an important part of a healthy lifestyle, so even when we’re feeling overwhelmed with uncertainty and troubling news, it’s still important to maintain these connections – even if it’s virtually via phone and video calls. Chatting to others, sharing experiences and talking about the positive or neutral topics that you would normally discuss helps you to feel less isolated and is a way to anchor you during turbulent times.
How to cope when distressing news leaves you feeling anxious
Taking steps to ease your stress and anxious feelings may appear difficult to achieve when it seems the world is focused on one endless unfolding story, but here are some simple steps to help get you started.
1. Take a moment to notice and acknowledge your feelings of uncertainty and anxiety as they come to your mind.
2. Pause to clear your mind and focus on your breath. Try this simple relaxation breathing technique next time you feel anxious:
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Your abdomen should expand, and your chest should rise very little.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth. As you blow air out, purse your lips slightly, but keep your jaw relaxed as you exhale.
- Repeat this breathing exercise for several minutes.
3. Remember, thoughts and feelings tempt us to catastrophize and are not facts. Remind yourself that your worry is only a thought or feeling, and take some much-needed reassurance that not everything you feel is true.
4. Imagine your negative thoughts and feelings can drift and float away. You can witness and release your thoughts, but you don’t need to respond to them.
5. Focus on the here and now by using mindfulness techniques to shift your focus to the environment around you. Try this simple grounding technique to help you centre and focus on the present moment.
Take 5 deep breaths through your nose and exhale through pursed lips.
Look around you to identify and name:
5 things you see
4 things you feel
3 things you hear
2 things you smell
1 thing you taste
Take 5 more deep breaths and notice the feeling of calm in your body.
With every major change or crisis, it’s our resiliency that helps us get through. Developing your resilience is a personal journey that can be developed like a muscle, as it needs to be worked in order to get stronger. With strategies and support, it’s possible to build your resiliency to protect and support your mental well-being in the face of the uncertainty and distressing news.
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