It’s hard to feel as though the last 18 months haven’t been a relentless cycle of negative news stories, especially as modern-day news is increasingly difficult to avoid. Being concerned about the news is understandable, but for many, it can make existing mental health problems worse and for others, it can feel especially triggering if it relates to personal experiences.
A quick scan of social media will tell you that the psychological impact of the last fortnight's news cycle has been deeply affecting for so many. The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has resulted in heartbreaking and distressing images across both news outlets and social media and seeing the chaos and crisis unfold can feel extremely personal even for those with no personal connection to Afghanistan.
And for those who do identify as Afghan or those who may have experienced similar political unrest or persecution from another nation, these feelings are only exacerbated. A constant stream of this news whether you are exposed actively or passively can elevate stress levels and trigger symptoms like PTSD, anxiety, and trouble sleeping. For those with family or friends in Afghanistan, you may be experiencing feelings of guilt about not being physically able to support people you care about who are more at risk.
The situation in Afghanistan is just one example of the many triggering news stories we have seen in the past 18 months. Terrorist attacks, human rights movements, and natural disasters have impacted us all and left us feeling fatigued and anxious about the future. And these stories have broken at a time where many of us already feel as though we are running on empty, having spent 18 months living through a global pandemic.
Trying to strike a balance between being informed by news media and not becoming overwhelmed by it is difficult, especially for those in countries that are currently experiencing lockdown restrictions where distractions may be limited. Whilst it’s okay and necessary to be aware of what is happening in the world around this we would suggest finding a balance and prioritizing self-care if you feel yourself being negatively impacted by what you are viewing. We have included some strategies below to help manage any news distress you may be experiencing.
Strategies for Managing News Distress
Schedule in Time for the News
Constantly consuming news through scrolling on our phones can greatly increase anxiety in a way that is not helpful to our everyday functioning. Schedule in 30 minutes a day to scroll through and update yourself, just like you would with another appointment or a lunch break. To help you keep that schedule, make sure you have something planned right after your designated news time. Effectively managing your media consumption can help you stay up to date while also reducing your stress and helping you to feel in control.
Do Something Healthy After Consuming News
When everything feels so uncertain and scary, ensuring you break up any news intake with something positive or healthy will help you to feel grounded and boost your resilience. These could be as simple as scheduling walks or calls with a friend, starting a new hobby, or moving your body in some way. Engaging in positive and healthy self-care activities that are rewarding, meaningful, or enjoyable, even if you don’t feel like it, can make you feel better.
Ask a Friend or Family Member to be Your Filter
While watching the news may be triggering symptoms of distress, anxiety, or depression, it’s easy to feel almost just as anxious at the thought of not following what’s going on. Asking someone to filter the news for you and keep you updated on the most important updates will help you tune out, while still feeling in the know. It’s best to ask someone who isn’t being directly affected by the current news stories and to check if this person feels as though they have the emotional capacity to keep you updated. ‘Mute’ any accounts on your social media that share news stories to give yourself a break and ensure that you won’t be surprised by anything triggering while scrolling on your timeline.
Choose Your News Sources Wisely
Wherever you can, choose reputable news sources who abide by the journalistic code of ethics. Avoid clickbait websites, and also try to monitor the number of opinion pieces you read, as both of these sources aren’t providing any kind of balance of opinions. Try and limit clicking through to articles on Facebook, as Facebook’s news sharing algorithm is designed to show you ‘news’ they think you’ll be interested in, based on what has been most shared and this is where a lot of clickbait, conspiracy theories, and fake news may exist. In challenging times, scary and exaggerated headlines and articles can exacerbate anxiety, so do your best to filter these out.
Spend time with people who give you a sense of security, calm, or happiness, or those who best understand what you are going through. Having a support network is crucial, and if you don’t feel like you have people directly around you that you can turn to for support, your TalkCampus community is available with people who understand and are here to listen and support you. If it’s your community that is being directly affected, reach out to community groups online or in-person if possible.
Stick to Your Routine
During times of stress and anxiety, maintaining structure and routine can help you feel more organized and in control. A lack of structure and routine can actually exacerbate feelings of distress and make you pay more attention to the problems outside of your control. The key is to create a routine that adds structure and a sense of predictability to your day. Of course, your schedule may change somewhat depending on the day of the week, but sticking to a basic structure for when you will wake, eat, work, do activities, and help with your overall resilience and day-to-day coping.
Consider Your Thinking
Ask yourself if your thoughts are helpful to you right now. Are there ways you can change your thinking to be more accurate and less distressing? Remind yourself that you are safe, challenge any thoughts that have no basis of fact and try to ground yourself in the present. If you are feeling overwhelmed, try some strategies like writing down your thoughts and fact-checking yourself. Stop in the moment and ask yourself, ‘Is this true?’ and ‘Is this helpful?’. Think about what you may say to a friend who was having that same thought. You don’t have to change your thoughts into positive ones, as this also isn’t helpful if that doesn’t align with how you are feeling, but focusing on changing them to realistic thoughts helps you ease the feeling of overwhelm for whatever you may be coping with.
Seek Out Positive News
Although it may not always seem like it, there are so many positive things happening in our world that unfortunately don’t always get the same amount of attention as the negative stories. A quick google of ‘positive news’ results in a number of websites you can subscribe to or social media accounts that you can follow who deliver uplifting news into your feed each day. Reading about what’s going right in the world, with news focused on progress, possibility, and solutions can be a great mood booster and a reminder that the world is a good place full of many reasons to stay hopeful.
Take Meaningful Action
Channel your emotions into positive action, within your own emotional capacity. That may be making a monetary donation, donating clothes or household items to charities for refugees or others who need support, or simply signing petitions or supporting others in your community. Whatever you can do to find purpose and a sense of control, to remind yourself of all the good that exists in the world.
For any students who may be studying abroad or away from their families being impacted by the events in Afghanistan or elsewhere, here is another blog about coping with being away from your home during challenging times.
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