How to Cope with an Emotionally-Draining News Cycle

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2020 has been a rough year. From COVID-19 to ongoing police brutality, it can be exhausting just to open up your favorite news app or scroll through social media. While it’s important to stay informed, constantly reading about the pandemic, inequality, and economic devastation takes a huge emotional toll.

So how can you cope with an emotionally-draining news cycle while still staying up-to-date on what’s going on in the world? Here are some tips.

Why Does TheNew Give Us Stress?

Hearing stories of deaths and trauma on the news creates a spike in our stress levels. Our stress response if triggered when we are challenged or threatened, and we become ready to fight or flight. What are our responses if we can’t physically see the threat but we know it’s there?

According to Dr. Stephen Baker is the Department Chair and Associate Professor of Psychology for the Francis Worldwide online degree programs at St. Francis University, “ambiguity creates a feeling of confusion, which can affect our emotions and cognitions. In order to regain a sense of control we search to reduce that ambiguity through information.”

Humans are naturally curious and drawn to information. Accessing that information is easy and now at the click of a button on our smart phones or devices.

“The news channels provide around the clock updates on incidents rates and mortality counts. There are daily updates from state and federal governments on the color category/level. Print media provide us with interactive graphs. Twitter tweets with latest figures. Social media keeps us connected during our physical distancing quarantine. And Zoom-Slack-Teams allow business to continue in the intimacy of our homes.  Yet the question is: does all of that information help alleviate the distress from the ambiguity that is COVID-19, or does it amplify the anxiety,” Dr. Baker adds.

1st Step of Coping is Identifying, So Know Your Symptoms! 

Everyone reacts a little differently to the emotional weight of a draining news cycle, and it’s important to realize how it’s affecting you specifically.

Some people notice changes in their mood or feel depressed and hopeless after they read the news for too long. Many even feel like crying for “no reason.”

Other people notice physical symptoms, like recurring headaches. You might feel sluggish and have trouble sleeping or getting out of bed in the morning.

Notice how you feel when you read the news. Notice how you feel when you step back and limit your media consumption. It’s important to understand how the news cycle affects you so you can make the necessary changes to your routine and behavior.

According to Dr. Cassandra Godzik, Assistant Dean and professor within Online Graduate Nursing programs at Regis College, “mental Fatigue is a real side effect of too much media time consumption. This can manifest itself in different ways for different people and can include trouble and/or changes in sleep, irritability, or difficulty in completing work/home tasks. Concentration might also suffer. Fortunately these symptoms can be overcome and treated by maintaining strict limits on how much news consumption you have.”

Dr. Godzik outlined the important steps to take in order to relieve mental fatigue.

“The first step is recognizing that you and/or your loved one is taking in too much media. Critically look at media dosing – how much TV/phone/newspaper/iPad/social media time are you spending daily? how many times are you logging into these sites each day? and what time of day are you logging into them – in the morning over breakfast and before bed,” she says. 

The second step involves finding the right amount of media/news consumption that won’t push you over the edge.

“Try a few days of changing your news dosing and how you respond to the change in frequency, time spent, and time of day used to consume it. The third step is enacting a plan that allows you to keep apprised of the world while maintaining boundaries and limits around how much time is reasonable for you to spend on media WHILE feeling mentally rested and not mentally fatigued.”

Allow Space & Time for Your Thoughts & Feelings 

If reading the news is upsetting for you, it’s important to give yourself the space and time you need to process your thoughts and feelings. It’s perfectly normal to feel strong emotions of distress, fear, rage, and frustration when the world is in a state of crisis. Be kind to yourself and consider tools like journaling to help you process what you’re feeling.

You shouldn’t try to avoid or “correct” your negative emotions. It’s very stressful to pretend you’re not having strong, negative reactions and doing so will just make things worse in the end. Although it can be uncomfortable to accept your feelings, it will help to improve your well-being in the long run.

Set Limits on Social Media & TV 

Our news cycle today is 24/7, thanks to the Internet and all the devices we carry with us. If you don’t set your own limits on how much media you consume, your mental health will suffer. It’s not realistic or healthy to cut out the news entirely, but you may have to cut back significantly for the sake of your mental health.

Depending on your schedule and the effect that reading or watching the news has on you, you should set your boundaries for how much media you consume and when. Experiment with the time of day to see the effects on your mood and consider cutting back significantly. You should also be selective about which media outlets you read as this can help to reduce your fatigue and stress.

Remember that the emotions you experience when reading the news can affect your sleep. You might want to set a “news curfew” to reduce the impact of the news cycle on your sleep cycle! If you’re having a hard time setting these kinds of limits, you might want to install an app that will block certain sites for a defined period of time to help you stay accountable.

Question Accuracy of Information

Remember that the goal of any news outlet is to get lots of eyes on their content, so it pays for them to be as provocative as possible. Every outlet also has its own agenda, and it’s important to be mindful of that when you’re choosing the media you want to consume. Question the accuracy of the information you’re getting and identify outlets that are the most trustworthy.  

News outlets that provide the best information are often those that provide balanced reporting and aim to remain politically neutral. Do not make a habit of scrolling through sites that intentionally inflame or sensationalize what’s going on in the world. Things might be bad right now, but the news can make things seem even worse or spin and skew the facts to make a better story!

Stay Informed, But Take Care of Yourself

It’s important not to check out entirely and ignore what’s going on in the world. You need to stay up-to-date on current events. With that said, there is a way to stay informed while taking care of your mental health.

Talking to a counselor or trusted friend can also help you process difficult emotions and feelings.

“The best way to process thoughts and emotions related to violent and horrific images in the news is to talk with someone you trust who will validate your experience of the event(s). People who have experienced traumatic events in the past can be at higher risk for anxiety and depression,” says Dr. Nancy Sherman, a professor at Bradley University in the Online Masters of Counseling Program

“If fear and anxiety affect the ability to function at school or work, it is time to seek the help of mental health professionals. If some news images are too much, then find another source from which to get news besides visual sources. Rather than cutting oneself off from the constant bombardment of violent images, take a break from all media and try smaller doses of news without the pictures.

If you know something in the news report will be upsetting, it is okay not to watch. For many people, taking action can help, whether it is donating time or money to a cause or taking precautions from getting ill. It is not necessary to cut yourself off from the news, but it is essential to know yourself and your reactions and how it affects your mental health.”

Don’t let the news cycle drain and control you. Take charge and set limits when you find yourself carrying the weight of your emotions.

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