When I worked for a news website, the first thing I did each morning was grab my phone and look through the breaking news alerts that came in while I slept. On days with few alerts, I might have taken the later subway or stopped for coffee. But when news broke, sometimes I’d open my laptop and start updating the website from my bed.
It wasn’t healthy. Almost a decade later, I still feel my heart race when I see headlines screaming at me.
Even if you don’t work in journalism, you might have similar feelings when you see coverage of news events. Knowing what’s going on in the world is important, but it also can get to be too much.
“Repetitive and even near-constant exposure to stressful events, especially those beyond our control, can lead to feelings of hopelessness and depression,” says Dr. Robert Bright, a Mayo Clinic psychiatrist. “Sometimes the ‘bad news’ seems to be coming from every angle. It can be very overwhelming.”
Some people are so discouraged that they feel attempts to change things for the better are futile. Others are motivated by what they see and hear and develop a deeper passion to improve the world and make it a better place, Dr. Bright says.
Stress can lead to burnout
When you’re stressed, your adrenal glands excrete adrenaline, also called cortisol. The hormone gives you the energy to get up and face the threat (fight) or run away to a safe place (flight). But when you’re constantly exposed to stress, you become physically and emotionally exhausted. You burn out.
Burnout can feel like:
- Low energy.
- Lack of motivation.
- A sense of hopelessness.
- Depressed mood.
- Apathy and indifference.
- Withdrawal from others.
- Eating too much or too little.
- Disrupted sleep.
How to cope when the news is overwhelming
Anxiety can build when you feel that a situation is out of your control. But problem-solving and flexibility through coping strategies can help you feel more in control. Try these strategies when worrying about what’s going on in the news threatens to disrupt your life or well-being.
Limit your exposure to news media
The constant flow of news can heighten fears and anxiety. I learned that this is true even if it’s just on in the background and you’re not paying close attention to it. I won’t even go to a gym that has TVs tuned to different 24-hour news networks viewable from every treadmill.
It can be hard to stop scrolling for news updates but try to find limits that work for you. You could set a timer, so you only spend 5 minutes looking at social media. Unfollow any social media accounts that bombard you with disturbing headlines. Consider checking news only at specific times — like once in the morning and again in the evening instead of mindlessly scrolling through news updates on your phone.
Avoid staying up late to monitor news
Keeping the news on can keep scary events top of mind. Turning off the news lets the mind relax for sleep, Dr. Bright says.
If you’re afraid that you might miss something if you turn it off, it’s not your fault. The news is designed to draw you in just like your favorite HBO shows. There’s a reason the evening news spends the whole broadcast teasing you about where you can see baby pandas this weekend only and saves the big reveal for the last 10 seconds of the show.
After dinner, I try to limit my media to things that are light and pleasant like reading a novel or listening to a fun podcast. I also feel better when I turn everything off and do something crafty or clean the house.
Seek out reputable sources
Turn the news off when you notice the anchors or guests offering opinions or speculating about what could happen rather than providing confirmed information. When news is unfolding and someone with “good enough” credentials is willing to go on to explain the situation, they’re often invited to do that. And stay a while.
This was apparent during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It took time for medical researchers to understand each new variant and how it spread. Yet, there were always people with medical credentials on TV giving their predictions just a day or two after the variant was discovered.
If you’re not sure about the story:
- Do a web search on the “expert.” You might find that the doctor sells a line of supplements and doesn’t seem to have any special expertise in infectious diseases.
- Check other news sites. Are they reporting the same thing?
- Check reputable websites, that might end in .gov, .edu or .org, to see what they’re saying on the topic.
If you suspect that you’re getting less-than-credible information, you can turn it off. You can always check back later when confirmed details might be available.
Be skeptical on social media
Anyone can spread information on social media. Click and read the entire article before sharing it yourself. Sometimes the headline is “clickbait,” meaning it’s designed to get attention. Even legitimate news organizations dial headlines up to 11 to get attention. The headline might not accurately reflect what the article is even saying — but it does help the organization reach its page view goal for the month. One sign that they’re overselling the story is if the headline ends with a question mark (for example, “Is this the most worrisome COVID variant yet?”).
If something you see surprises you, get curious about it. You can do the same checks listed above.
If the article is inaccurate, report it. That’s one easy action you can take to prevent the spread of harmful misinformation.
Yes, sometimes world events are too big for one person to make a difference. But it adds up when multiple groups are inspired to do something. Pick a cause that matters to you and see if you can meaningfully contribute to a solution. Gather your friends and family to help. Maybe you could raise money, support a political initiative of a candidate or plant trees. Focusing on what you can do helps give a sense of control.
Take care of yourself
You are not responsible for fixing every situation. Sometimes you need to take a break to take care of yourself. If the news feels overwhelming, turn it off. Step away and find calming activities you enjoy. You might feel better after taking a walk, participating in a hobby or connecting with a loved one. Taking care of you also gives you the energy to come back the next day and try to make a difference.
Help is available
If stress, anxiety or depression are impacting your life, professional help is available. A mental health therapist can help you with coping strategies or medication if needed. Contact your healthcare professional if you experience:
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Changes in eating patterns.
- Difficulty concentrating on normal tasks.
- Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, prolonged sadness or overwhelming worry.
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