Times are changing. Society is changing. Politics is changing. The world around us is changing. Regardless of your stance on certain issues, many people have recently been affected by the news and current domestic and international events. As a psychologist, someone who is trained in understanding the psyche and helping others to calm their mind, I consider myself a rational person. Through feedback during my training years and from patients along the way, this belief has routinely been validated by others. Nonetheless, I sometimes find myself feeling overwhelmed, surprised, and sometimes angry when I get the latest news update and learn about the day’s events.
Whether it’s another unfortunate shooting, a terror attack, or a highly conflicted political discussion, the current state of our country and the world’s affairs seems to have many people experiencing stress, anxiety, anger, and hopelessness. These feelings are reasonable, as it is common to experience such emotions following any traumatic or significant event. However, it is important to know there are many ways to manage these uncomfortable feelings. So what does one do to regulate their exposure to this type of information, and to overcome uncomfortable and distressing fear and anxiety?
Do you receive alerts each time your news source releases the latest headline or article? Being constantly bombarded with news throughout the day is not good for anyone. Unless your job is working for a news source or requires you to stay constantly aware of the latest information, this over-exposure leads to too much attention being given to current events. When you are receiving updates throughout the day, you are constantly being affected by everything that happens. Each time you read an alert, or click to open the article, you are exposing yourself to content that can lead to negative thinking and negative emotions. Doing this throughout the day, and all day, can lead to feeling overwhelmed and may even distract you from other more timely responsibilities and priorities (e.g., your job, your relationships, exercise, healthy eating, going to bed on-time, etc.).
There are multiple solutions to this:
- Turn off the alerts altogether, or turn them off for a defined period of time. By defining a period of time that you will not be bombarded by news alerts, you are allowing yourself a mental and emotional break from devastating and conflictual events. Even if this is just for a day or two, or two days per week, this reduces the constant influx of information.
- If it is important to you to remain aware of current events, set aside time only once or twice per day to read the latest news. This could be in the morning when you drink your coffee, during your lunch break, or in the evening after dinner.
- Try not to read the news before going to bed. This can lead to difficulty falling asleep, either due to worry about what you’ve just read or getting into the recently increasing trend of Facebook “comment wars.” Either way, it keeps you up.
Talk About It
Holding in your thoughts and how you are feeling never works. There is a metaphor that I often use in therapy with my patients: Imagine you are holding a beach ball and trying to keep it under water. You have to use a lot of effort and stay focused in order to keep the ball under water. Eventually, you tire out, and the second you stop fighting to keep the ball down, it pops up. Emotions are just like this; it takes a lot of effort, and mental and emotional energy to keep them under the surface. Eventually you tire of doing this, and those emotions come to light.
It is always better to address what you are thinking and feeling. The best way to do this is by talking with others. ‘Others’ is a pretty vague term here, and for good reason. You may find relief in talking to family, friends, or even complete strangers. It is helpful when you find people who relate to what you are thinking and feeling, as this fosters the most open and productive dialogue. Conversely, you may be open to exploring other possibilities and may want to engage in conversations with people who think differently than you on the subject.
This type of open-mindedness can lead to clarification, critical analysis of the issue, and perhaps even yield a different perspective, decision, or standpoint.
Connect with Others
You may be feeling alone in your reactions. However, it is more likely that you are not alone. Related to the preceding point, connecting with others who are experiencing similar reactions helps to normalize what you are feeling and brings a sense of community. This can turn your turn hopelessness into hope and increase your overall sense of positivity. An additional benefit is the ability to join forces and speak out on an issue with others who share your perspective. Connecting with other like-minded individuals can be incredibly validating and reassuring.
Use Your Reasoning Skills
Sometimes events that happen may directly and personally impact you. For example, if a shooting occurred where you live, it is reasonable to feeling deeply shocked, saddened, angry, and perhaps in denial. Your community is grieving, people are on high-alert, and the relative weight of the event is all the more real. When this is the case, it is still incredibly important to keep your thoughts in check by utilizing reason and engaging in healthy coping strategies.
Most of the time, however, the events and news that we learn about do not directly impact us. When the distressing news is related to a political outcome or decision, this is also often the case (at least for the near future due to the time it takes for legislation to be passed and laws to be enacted). However, by focusing our attention on the information, we allow our minds to catastrophize the relative importance or weight of the event in our personal lives. Due to the strong association between our thoughts and emotions, catastrophizing with your thoughts only leads to negative emotions. This, in turn, has a direct impact on our actions (i.e., what you do or don’t do next).
Take the time to think about the situation and determine whether it is something that truly impacts you, and even if it does not, whether it is something you can influence. If you conclude that you reasonably have no control over the situation, then allow yourself the mental and emotional break of not getting caught up in it.
Despite the above strategies to manage exposure and temper emotions, the reality is there has been a recent significant (and constant) influx of news about devastating world events and shocking political outcomes. Ignoring reality, just like trying to ignore and suppress emotions, does not actually change it. In these times, it is crucial that you take care of yourself. Good self-care practices lead to being better able to mentally and emotionally manage reactions to current events. Self-care includes:
- Ensure that you are getting adequate sleep each night. If needed, try some mindfulness, meditation, or relaxation exercises to distract yourself from thoughts and fall asleep more easily. Also make sure to you are getting enough sleep.
- Ensure that you are eating enough, and making healthy eating choices, in order to sustain your energy levels. Taking in enough food is also related to being able to reason and think clearly. It is important that you don’t neglect your healthy eating habits by forgetting to eat or giving in to your reduced appetite, which may be in reaction to your mood. Likewise, it is important that you are not over-eating as a form of coping with how you feel.
- Continue your exercise routine, or start a new one. Exercise is proven to have a direct and positive impact on your reasoning ability and mood. Don’t let emotions about current events interfere with your current exercise routine. If you haven’t been exercising, it is a good time to start. Even going for a brisk walk three days per week is beneficial for your mental and emotional health.
- Stick to your schedule. Changes in stress often results in changes in schedules, and changes in schedules often results in stress. Try to go to sleep and wake at the same, eat meals when you normally do, and engage in your activities as usual (e.g., exercise, meditation, etc.).
- Take time for relaxation. What you find relaxing may be different from what your spouse or best friend finds relaxing. Perhaps your relaxation is reading a book, going for a walk, listening to music, watching a good movie, playing with your dog, going shopping, getting a massage, etc. Whatever it is, do it!
Seek Professional Help
Even when we try our best to manage stress and other emotions on our own, sometimes we just need to talk to a professional. Although the tips provided above can help you get past feelings of anxiety, they may not work for everyone. This is why it is important to know that there are other avenues you can take to feeling better again. The difference between talking with a professional versus a friend or family member is that your psychologist is an objective, neutral person. They are not there to debate with you over political issues or tell you “you shouldn’t feel that way.” For the most part, unless it would do you a disservice, they are there to support you, express understanding for how you feel, and help you to manage how you are feeling by teaching you practical strategies.
We Want to Help
We completely understand how the current state of world events can lead to anxiety and can be very troubling. Tampa Therapy specializes in working with traumatic events and PTSD. We also specialize in working with everyday emotional upsets, anxiety, and depression, all in a relaxing and non-judgmental environment. If you are experiencing distress related to current events, the news, or any other situations occurring in your life, please contact us. Take the first step to start your journey to happiness.