Sometimes I don’t think I can look at the news—or social media. I’m a journalist and a news hound, and I’m suffering from headline stress disorder.
I think it all began about five years ago I am sure, and yet I continue to find myself feeling like I’m “hooked.” (Wait! I must be stronger than that! Well, maybe not.)
During COVID, watching news that revealed so much about people’s behavior really added to my angst, already heightened due to isolation and the restrictions we all endured to protect one another, along with brazen political drama of the past few years. Do people really say and do that stuff to each other now and “get away with it”?
I’ve been thinking about how to cope with the stress of news that can be difficult to watch, and now the subject is the war in Ukraine—along with ongoing ugly politics, wildfires, gun violence, and an overheating planet. It makes me anxious. Maybe you feel it, too.
We view truly disturbing scenes most of us never thought we’d see in 2022. We hear about sanctions, more sanctions, and then see photos of adults, children, even pets killed by targeted bombings, while the perpetrator continues to lie about everything—every attack. It’s truly mind-boggling, and we fear that he will turn his sites on neighboring countries that are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to which the United States belongs because, it seems, he has no heart and is disconnected from reality, always a dangerous scenario.
So, what in the world can we do? We can’t stop the war. We can’t stop what we’re seeing, but we can stop seeing it. And experts who deal with stress tell us we can do these things, so I’m giving them a try.
1) Accept that there some things we can’t control: That may be a hard pill to swallow, but truthfully, we can’t. And I don’t like that at all, darn it. But maybe we can work on something we can control and accomplish, something that means a great deal to us, and when we make it better, we feel that we’ve “done something,” accomplished something. And that feels pretty good, yes?
2) Think of the good things you’ve done: Maybe you haven’t heard about headline stress disorder. Now you have. And it seems that we women are particularly vulnerable, says Steven Stosny, Ph.D, in The Washington Post: “because of the desire to connect, affiliate, nurture, grow and protect.”
He says if you think about feeling helpless, your brain “loads” instances of other times you felt the same. But if you think about feeling empowered and valuable, your brain will remind you of those times when you did important things and you felt that way.
3) Get away from the news: If we don’t, it may be that we can’t be as productive in our daily lives. A woman with complex post-traumatic stress disorder told Medical News Today that to keep her mental health intact, she can’t watch or read news. “I feel [bad] when I hear people talking around me, but it also means that I can get out of bed in the mornings.”
4) Do something else: I work out five or six days a week, and running or even walking in Nature, or sweating in strong or HIIT class (high intensity interval training) helps me—temporarily. Being with my pets reminds me how much I love them, and helping people and pets helps me accomplish something that’s really important to me. Yoga and meditation are great, too, but they don’t work if you don’t do them—and meditation takes practice. If there’s a volunteer cause you care about, put your feelings into action and work within your community.
5) Digest some good news: It’s there. For me, it’s again around people helping animals, but people also do help other people all the time. Look for “positive news” sites and get your fill. And if you’re suddenly drawn into a negative conversation, you can excuse yourself and say that maybe you just need some quiet time to think about something else. Fair enough.
6) Take care of yourself: We’re talking about your physical and mental health here, because the stronger you are in all ways, the more resilient you can be when negative news is front and center. Try to eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, and do those maintenance basics. If you need more support, reach out to a mental health professional, therapist, or social worker. Or maybe join an in-person or online support group to convene with people who feel the same way. Ask a few close friends to get together and promise not to “go there…”
None of this is easy, and I am the first to admit that. Bad news isn’t going away and our access to it, 24/7, remains at the highest level of consumption in history. Maybe acknowledging that “we’ve had enough” for a while is a good thing.
Last night, I turned off the TV and read a magazine about a topic I really enjoy. I petted Sylvia and Thomas, two kitties. And then I said “Good night” without watching something that might prompt bad dreams. When my mind raced, I meditated for a whole 10 seconds! (That’s good for me.)
I wish us all positive thoughts and happier days. It’s incumbent upon us to create them. In spite of “everything.”