Finding Balance When Staying Aware
Between Coronavirus, political unrest, natural disasters, and violent responses to national events, the news we watch is rarely good news these days, and that can take a toll on people, with or without a mental health diagnosis. I got a message recently, and I appreciate this person's honesty about her struggles:
"I am really interested in current events and politics. I volunteer for many causes I believe in, and I am really passionate about making the world a better place. So I try to stay informed. But I'm noticing the more I try to be informed, the worse my depression gets, and the more overwhelmed and anxious I feel. I think about stopping sometimes, but I don't want my friends to accuse me of not caring. Is there anything I can do to stay strong when I watch the news?"
I admire anyone who loves learning and wants to make the world a better place. But the way we take in news has changed greatly over the years. Because we can now get the news 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, along with constant commentary on that news across every social media platform, the media never gives our brains a rest. It's our responsibility to take a break to preserve our mental health, but it can be difficult to know when and how to do that.
Here's what I've learned as I've counseled young adults working through this. I hope you find it helpful, and I am confident that caring for your mental health is always a good decision.
Feeling Weak Doesn't Make You a Failure
I understand why you might feel weakened by stronger clinical depression symptoms after watching the news. And I want to reassure you, acknowledging weakness doesn't make you a failure or a bad person, and it doesn't mean you don't care about what's going on in the world.
Knowing your limitations is a strength. Recognizing when you feel weakened or drained means you can break that cycle more readily. That allows you to prioritize rest. When you are more rested, you often have more energy to prioritize what you want to learn, and more time to do what is most important to you.
News Cycles Can Make Depression and Anxiety Worse
It's important to understand the power of the words we hear and the images and videos we see. As MindWise Innovations reports:
"[H]uman beings. . . are constantly seeking and receiving information. We’re part of an age where news coverage is presented in real-time, and the 24-hour news cycle allows us to stay informed to the very minute. But if the news is negative, the psychological ramifications can be serious. Watching something tragic unfold repeatedly can have an impact on your mental health."
Their behavioral health team has noticed a connection between near-constant access and exposure to the news and worsening mental health issues, including:
- Depression: Often the most tragic stories, the ones with the most death, destruction, and grieving, are the ones at the top of the news reports. Seeing this all day, or day after day, can make it harder to keep perspective or to find the hope you need to cope with clinical depression.
- Anxiety: Think of how a news report is presented. They want people to tune in, so they lead with the stories that are going to be the most attention-getting and excite the strongest reactions. That excitement can show up as worsening anxiety, fear, and uncertainty, particularly if you feel anxious regardless of what's happening in your life or the world.
- PTSD: According to that MindWise report, consuming too much news is among PTSD causes. People may develop post-traumatic stress disorder directly from the media they consume, and how much of it they consume. Because the news repeats over and over throughout the day, flashbacks and other PTSD symptoms are more likely to impact people who don't take care to limit their daily news and screen time.
Whether a doctor has diagnosed you with a mental illness like depression, or you're wondering if you should talk to someone about your mental health, it can only help you to think about your emotions, and how your mind and body are impacted by what you see every day.
News Cycles Can Worsen Emotional Addiction
You've probably learned about how addiction works in your mind and body. Did you know you can be addicted to a feeling, even an unpleasant one? Emotional addiction happens when you get a strong chemical and physical reaction (a "high", or a "rush”), from a strong emotion, and you find yourself getting your energy from and being fueled by that feeling. People can become addicted to pleasurable feelings, but unpleasant or negative emotions can give you a rush of adrenaline, too. Some common emotional addictions center around:
- Fear: Constantly refreshing or scrolling through the news cycle with a feeling "this can only get worse", can make your brain feel addicted to being afraid.
- Sadness: Most top stories are tragic, upsetting, and traumatic. That can worsen emotional addiction risks for someone already struggling with depression.
- Worry and Uncertainty: Since the news only has so much information at a given point in the day, there's often a "what if" feeling fueled by worry and uncertainty. The more you refresh the news when you feel that way, the greater your risk of developing an emotional addiction.
Reminder: Self-Care Isn't Selfish
Unplugging doesn't mean you're uninformed, and it isn't selfish to stop watching the news. When you feel like you've had enough, you can step away from it for the day.
You know your mind and body, and listening to them is smart. When you can feel your heart racing, your palms sweating, or can feel yourself getting more agitated, take those cues and step away from the screens, and do something that replenishes your mind, body, or spirit.
When I'm feeling overwhelmed by the news of the day, recharging often involves turning to my faith for strength and solace. And my faith does more than change my feelings. I can give all my anxieties to God in prayer, and He will comfort me. God cares about you, and the state of the world. You can pray to Him anytime for peace, hope and encouragement.
Other self-care practices that might help you clear your head from the news cycle include staying nourished and hydrated, doing physical activity, reading, journaling, or expressing your creativity.
Get Support to Find Balance
Awareness of the negative impact of news on your mental health, and self-care practices to make you feel more grounded, are great first steps when managing your emotions after reading a lot of stressful and tragic news. But sometimes you need extra support, especially when the news of the day involves heightened unrest or an extraordinarily frightening event.
Talking to a HopeCoach can help. Expressing your feelings to one of our trained mentors is a great way to plan for a greater sense of balance between staying informed, taking care of your mental health, and doing what you can to make a positive impact on the world. We're here to help and ready to listen.
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