The news seems to be getting more and more alarming. Reading it and listening to it can send our brains into a hyper-aware state, causing us to worry about our family and friends, the future, and humanity. We might experience a physical or emotional reaction, which lasts for a long spell. It can also make us feel helpless and hopeless.
Mental Illness As A ‘Hook’
When horrendous events occur, mental illness quite often becomes the news story; the media uses mental illness as a ‘hook’, leading to some pretty unsavoury, unjust and ill-considered headlines. Stigmatising language is used to describe people and mental illness is blamed for some horrific acts. It’s not just fear-mongering, it can cause us to worry that others will see us that way, as bad, dangerous people. We might worry that we will end up that way. We worry that we might end up committing a horrific act. It feeds into the shame and discrimination that we already feel, and experience, it’s irresponsible of the media to report stories in this way. Those with mental ill health are not people to be feared.
One of the first things we can do when the news becomes unbearable is to switch it off. This isn’t limited to switching the channel, turning the radio off or closing the webpage. It could also include stepping off social media, particularly at times when big events are still unfolding.
Sometimes we feel guilty for switching off. We can see the horrific stuff happening in the world and feel guilty that we can turn it off when others have no choice but to live through it.
It’s worth remembering that leaving the news on doesn’t help those in need. People living through these events don’t know who we are, so they definitely don’t know if we have the news on or not. Turning it off won’t affect those in need, but it will help us to protect ourselves and self-care is about being mindful of our boundaries.
As well as switching all news sources off, taking some time to step outside and re-connect with the world around us can be grounding and help to restore some of our headspace. Nature can be incredibly healing, and by getting out of our living space, it can help us to stop spiralling or catastrophising. Whatever is going on in the human world, the natural world often continues in the same patterns and cycles. It can help us to properly switch off from everything going on.
When our anxiety kicks off, one thing we can do to try and reduce it is to self-soothe. This effectively means comforting ourselves. It could include having a milky drink, tightly wrapping ourselves in a blanket, stroking a pet, having a hot bath, or listening to a song that relaxes us. We all have different things that we find helpful when it comes to calming and comforting ourselves.
Talk About It
It’s completely understandable that terrifying things happening in the news might affect us. Talking about it can help. Whether it be to a friend, a family member, or a professional. It can help us to air some of our worries and rationalise some of our fears. Differing perspectives often help us to digest thoughts which whirr around in our heads.
Hug Those We’re Close To (If Possible)
The news can cause us to worry about those we’re close to. It highlights the fragility of the world we live in which can play into the scary, and sometimes, catastrophising thoughts we might have. Science tells us that the oxytocin that a hug promotes can be calming, reduce levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and bring with it a sense of connection.
There are an awful lot of safety measures put in place to protect us on a day to day basis. Every time we go through an airport, our belongings are scanned. At concerts, our bags are checked. There are emergency services at the end of the phone. There are police and security guards on the streets. Our safety is a priority for the government and for people who own the places we go to.
For most of us, our homes are also safe – we have locks on our doors. We often have neighbours looking out for us or a neighbourhood watch system in place. We can have fire and burglar alarms installed. If we feel unsafe at home, we can do things to help ourselves feel safer. We could install new alarms or add another lock on the door.
Talking To Young People
Young people, whatever their age, often have questions about the news. Even if they are largely shielded from it at home, they may pick things up through school, youth groups, or newspaper headlines shouting from shop displays.
Let them lead. This can help us to figure out how much they know, and which specific aspects of the current news cycle they’re most worried about. If we need more time to think when asked something, or we’re unsure how much they know, then a “what do you think?” response can work well. We need to answer their questions honestly, but we don’t need to go into lots and lots of detail.
Shutting the conversation down is rarely helpful. If it’s an inappropriate time, encourage them to remember their questions and pick it up again as soon as it’s okay to do so. Keep encouraging them to share worries. If talking is tricky for our young person, we could use messaging apps. Some like to have a box by their bed that they pop worries in each night, we can then work through those worries together.
Reassure as much as possible, but don’t lie. Young people know when we’re lying. If we don’t know whether it will all be okay, then we can’t tell our young people that. We can reassure them that we’re there for them, we’re there to listen to them and we will do our best to keep them as safe as we possibly can.
Support them to develop healthy coping skills. Help them self-soothe. Encourage time away from news sources and time for self-care. Unfortunately, we can’t make the world as safe as we’d like for our young people, we can’t make “bad stuff” stop happening, but we can support them to cope with it.
It’s Not All Bad News
Reading the news can fill us with despair, anger and fright. The bad stuff seems to weigh heavier because our brains are built that way; they’re built to focus on the negative as they’re always trying to seek out the threats and keep us safe.
It is important to consider our boundaries when it comes to the news – finding a balance between keeping informed and feeling swamped by it, takes some tweaking. We can choose how and when we digest the news. We can choose if we’ll take action to help people and we can put extra measures into place to help us to feel safe when the news has us questioning where we might, or might not, be safe.
Whatever self-care measures we put into place, it doesn’t mean that we don’t care, it’s often that we care so much but aren’t in a position to do anything to help whilst we’re so unwell.
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