How do we look after our mental health when the news from around the world is anxiety-provoking, triggering or even traumatic? Feeling sad about the terrible things going on in the world is natural and understandable. But it’s important that we maintain our own wellbeing and reduce the chances of secondary trauma, especially for children or people who already struggle with PTSD or other mental health challenges. Boundaries are important and we have some suggestions.
Here is what we hope is WELL-TIMEDD advice:
W – wait before engaging or commenting on a news story or someone’s views of it. Pausing can be very beneficial and helps to ensure we’re responding rather than reacting is a way to keep healthier boundaries. Ask yourself whether you are protecting your peace by replying to someone either in person or online. Does it serve you to do so?
E – eat well and sleep well. Focus on your primary needs. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the baseline needs must be met before our nervous systems have a chance to handle the stresses they are put under. Research shows that ensuring we prioritise our nutritional needs and our needs for rest will give us more ability to handle stress.
L – let out your frustration in healthy ways. Anger management is an important tool in our mental well-being.Finding healthy ways to express anger is important for ourselves as individuals and in society and research is looking into how best to help advance this. Journal, run, exercise, play video games: any way you can move your body to help let out your anger in a constructive way. Staying active helps to manage stress.
L – live. It’s often tempting at times of high stress to withdraw but withdrawing can have health risks. While there is time for this and it’s important to ensure you rest too, making time to enjoy life is important. Staying focused on the people you love, the hobbies you enjoy, the purpose you have in your life If you have children who are being upset by the news encourage them to focus on healthy activities.
T – Turn off your news notifications on your phones and devices. Our brains and bodies are built to manage a perception of threat. Threats can have effects on our mental well-being. But threats can come as immediate, present, physical danger or as anxiety-provocation such as a news story. But we can choose how and when we engage with this potential threat to our world view, our feeling of safety, and of community.
There is a Pavlovian response we can begin to have to our phones letting us know again and again the latest news.
We can have healthy boundaries by choosing intentionally the time we engage with the news. Is that best done for you at the start of the day? Or on your commute home? Being strict with yourself and intentionally putting down your phone at a certain time can help prevent doomscrolling, and don’t subject yourself to graphic content. Being intentional about how and when we engage with anxiety-provoking and unexpected new information can help our nervous systems to respond in a way that keeps us feeling safe and not from a position where our nervous system is primed for attack.
I – Inform yourself from trusted sources. Often during times of news turmoil, a lot of information is shared, particularly on social media, not all of which is well-researched or well-informed. It is useful to understand where the information we are consuming comes from, how updated it is, what the agenda of the person or organisation is that offers this information. This could also mean, if you are particularly finding it difficult to engage with the news, you inform yourself via the information given to you by friends or family you trust who perhaps find the news less anxiety-provoking. This makes way for one of our two ‘D’s below.
Children naturally talk about subjects they find fascinating, and might hear exaggerated versions of news stories in the playground. Talking to them and reassuring them, as well as keeping their schools informed, is important for helping them navigate stressful situations.
Remember, there is a difference between making sure you are well informed and subjecting yourself to traumatic imagery.
M – mute misinformation. Sometimes online or in conversation people share misinformation either unknowingly or without consideration. We can mute those online in our social media feeds who often share either untrustworthy information or anxiety-provoking information. Misinformation can be damaging to our health. Pausing of misinformation can protect your mental wellness.
We all have limited energy and capacity. We can choose our battles, choose the times to engage or disengage. Choosing wisely is important if we want to contribute to a better and healthier, happier world in the future. We can mute misinformation sharers in conversation by holding strong boundaries, saying for example “I do not have the capacity to talk about that topic right now. Can we change the subject?” If the person does not want to change the subject, you have the right to leave the conversation. Protecting your peace is the healthiest choice. Those who care will respect this.
E – empower and educate yourself in small doses when you feel ready and able. As mentioned above, we all have limited capacity to engage with difficult topics. But when you do have the space and time to engage with heavier subjects, you can empower yourself by reading more than the present day news stories. Reading books or following content creators with strong reputations for education can help us engage with the different layers of a particular news story that might be troubling us.
D – discuss your fears and concerns with people you trust. It is important to not only allow time but to make time, to schedule time to chat with the people we feel closest to about how we are feeling regarding the news. This might be family members, but it could also be found family, friends or a therapist. Doing so is not frivolous but instead a survival strategy or healthy coping mechanism that can lead to a more productive engagement with the news in the long run.
D – distract yourself with fun things. Having fun is not frivolous but instead an important aspect of good mental health. Making time to balance the difficult and anxiety provoking news stories surrounding us with tension releasing and relaxing things we enjoy can re-energesise us and keep us motivated. There is a link between lower levels of depression and having hobbies. Balance is key in looking after our mental wellbeing.
And, when you feel powerless, consider what we CAN do:
C – change what we can. We can change ourselves, our responses, how kind we are to the people in our lives on a day-to-day basis. We can change the world by volunteering for good causes and voting in elections.
A – accept what we cannot change. We cannot change other people, their views or their ignorance. We sadly cannot change the way governments respond immediately. Instead with our support of charities and organisations who lobby for change, like MQ, change can happen. One person can do a lot with small acts of kindness and intention when others too do the same. We are stronger together.
N – No… or KNOW the difference between what we can change and what we cannot. This takes time but is helpful to pause and question whether there is something productive and constructive we can do.
Read more about recognising stress and how to reduce it here.