Bad news is always stressful and, unfortunately, there seems to be plenty of it, all the time. War, nuclear scares, terrorism, climate change, sexual violence: the state of the world might look quite frightening – and we are constantly reminded of it. Through the papers and radio and TV broadcasts, of course, but now via apps, blogs, and social media, too. We are tuned into a 24-hour news cycle of dramatic headlines and often unfiltered, shocking images that can unsurprisingly take a toll on our mental health.
‘[N]egative, emotionally-relevant news lowers the viewer’s mood, and increases their anxieties,’ says professor of psychology Graham Davey, from University of Sussex. In his upcoming book, The Anxiety Epidemic, Davey explains that this mood change aggravates personal worries, even when those worries are not directly linked to the stories being broadcast; and the events being witnessed can be shocking enough to create symptoms of acute stress and even PTSD, he adds.
Obviously, being informed is important, it keeps us aware and can bring about change in society, but if you’re feeling a bit – or a lot – overwhelmed while scrolling down your Twitter feed, know that you are not alone and that it’s actually okay to take a break and reach out for help, if you need to.
‘For me, in particular, any story that has to do with sexual violence and sometimes mental health, depending on how I’m feeling that day, might trigger feelings of hopelessness,’ says Bethan Buswell, a 29-year-old charity worker from London living with PTSD and a mild form of bipolar.
As a survivor of sexual assault, Bethan is especially sensitive to the many cases of harassment, abuse, and violence against women currently reported in the media. She remembers when, last year, in the run up to the US presidential elections, recordings of Donald Trump’s shameful ‘Grab’em by the pussy’ comment surfaced: ‘[You had it] on a news channel, and then in print and on the internet; you would have it on social media and you were constantly reminded that someone had bragged – I guess – about sexually assaulting somebody and also that the kind of threat you’ve been through it’s around all the time, and it’s just quite difficult.’
To overcome the feeling of being in danger triggered by the news, she turned to her therapists, of course, but to online resources too, like this eight-step guide for women impacted by exposure to sexual violence media coverage. ‘I would try and make sure to ground myself, trying to be compassionate and to remind myself that I am safe and actually it’s a news article that isn’t related to me,’ says Buswell, who would also reach out to helplines to cope, when needed.
There is clearly a difference between what might be considered natural worries and symptoms of more serious issues, but a constant cycle of tragic stories can cause a significant degree of anxiety, according to consultant clinical psychologist Emma Citron, and therefore it might be worthy to establish a more positive practice for news consumption.
‘Those who are currently experiencing anxiety, they are best advised not to scrutinise the newspapers or online [media] in too much detail,’ Citron suggests. ‘We need to protect ourselves from the gore, as there’s absolutely no need [to subject ourselves to it],’ she adds.
Knowing when to avoid possibly distressing news can also be helpful: ‘If you know you’re on a bit of a low end, [that] might not be the time,’ she warns. ‘A lot of the news is very heavy and even if your mood is okay it’s enough to drag anybody down,’ she admits.
Citron also believes in drawing a positive message from negativity, pointing out that by exposing crimes and injustices, the media help us being more vigilant, for ourselves and our loved ones.
Still, constant awareness of atrocities, especially terrorist attacks in places and situations that may feel familiar, can spread fear irrationally. ‘[An] example would be my whole family going to the football stadium the day after there has been an incident,’ she explains. ‘Pause the [anxious] thought and think ‘Hey! The security has been tightened and I’m not gonna let that stop us carrying on with our lives,’ she suggests. As hard as it might be, try and access your reasoning: ‘Remind yourself that these events are statistically hugely unlikely to affect you personally, and therefore not to be unduly alarmed,’ Citron adds.
Salma Haidrani is a 25-year-old journalist from London and needs to keep up with the news for quite obvious professional reasons; still, as a Muslim and a woman of colour some stories can be more painful than others. ‘Hearing news on Islamophobic hate crime or minorities is really triggering, particularly in an age where it can be fatal,’ she says.
Post-Brexit, the way she approaches the news has changed dramatically: ‘I choose not to read or watch anything that I know will make me feel lower than when I first clicked it.’ And she adds: ‘Endless news stories on how women are most likely to be hurt by Brexit is also triggering – we need real-life solutions, not scare-mongering.’
Pulling the plug on social media and turning off news notifications might be helpful, but not always possible; if you realise that they are amplifying stress and anxiety though, try to limit their use, whenever you can – even if it’s for just a few hours. As Salma points out: ‘Social media definitely exacerbates it – I feel that brands and news outlets have inevitably tapped into our disposition for public rage, so they’ll run a headline that’s intentionally and unnecessarily provocative.’
One of the strategies she uses to protect her wellbeing includes avoiding Twitter and Instagram at the weekend: ‘To be quite frank, I don’t want to feel frustrated by breaking news when I’m enjoying unwinding. The ‘Log Out’ button’s there for a reason, so don’t be afraid to utilise it!’
If you are feeling stressed, or anxious, you feel like you might be struggling with depression, or a mental health disorder, do reach out – it’s important to talk and get the help you deserve and need. Break the silence. Talk to someone. Talk to your GP. Or contact MIND.
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