Many of my clients feel anxious, depressed or angry when they watch the news or hear about it on social media. Others feel guilty about not doing enough, or not knowing enough about what’s going on. With the outbreak of the war in Israel and Palestine, the tensions are higher than ever, even here in the USA. So how can you handle the stress you feel from current events – and make a positive difference?
1. Limit your exposure to the news
Most news sources focus on negative events, because bad news gets people’s attention and compels us to keep watching. But our brains aren’t built to handle horrible stories every day, especially about big, faraway problems we can’t personally solve. This causes feelings of helplessness and being overwhelmed.
Instead, I suggest picking a time when you will catch up on the news once or twice a week. Limit it to no more than an hour each time. Reading is usually better than watching video because you can skim the headlines if you’re in a hurry, or if the news is too triggering to read through entirely.
2. Examine your sources for stress from current events
Some news sources are better than others, both for accuracy, and for your mental health. Some social media bloggers will share news in a very stressful way, while others are calmer or more uplifting.
Notice how you feel as you read a person’s blog, or read articles on a website, or watch a news channel. Are you starting to feel angry? Anxious? Exhausted? Some of these feelings are normal when hearing about disasters and danger, but if some of your sources regularly make you upset, you may need a source with a calmer, more level-headed tone. Some good starting points are the BBC, NPR, the Washington Post and the Economist.
3. Outrage isn’t activism
Many of my clients who feel stress from current events also feel like they should be feeling upset, or else it means that they don’t care enough about injustice. But feeling upset, on its own, does not help others. Your day being full of anger or worry will not cause politicians to start acting better.
Release yourself from the obligation to always know what’s going on. Grant yourself permission not to make posts just because you feel pressured to say something. Allow yourself to set the news aside sometimes and enjoy your day, too. You need breaks and happy times so that you don’t get burned out.
4. Look for a practical way to help
Anger, worry, and other negative emotions exist to motivate us. So channel that motivation into an action you can do. Many folks like to pick one cause to focus on, like cleaning up pollution, or reproductive rights, or helping people find affordable housing. You might then donate to an organization related to that cause, use social media to spread awareness, or even check out volunteer opportunities in your community.
The first key word is “sustainable.” If you can sort donations at a food pantry for an hour a week, that’s awesome. If you can only make posts telling people about food drives and where they can find pantries, that’s also helpful! Do what works for your energy level, time, resources, and personal strengths.
The second key word is “constructive.” You will probably be much happier if you feel like you’re making a difference – and you’ll attract more people to your cause. I personally have a rule that I don’t share posts on social media if all they accomplish is making me feel upset. Instead, I share information about resources, charities, and ways people can help. That helps me feel more hopeful, too.
5. Identify who you can talk to about stress from current events
Some people in your life are better for discussing the news with than others. Some of them may have opinions you find offensive or hateful. Others, you might agree with, but their attitudes are hard to deal with. It’s okay to tell these folks, “I’d rather not talk about the news, thanks.” If someone insists on talking about the news after you asked them not to, change the subject or step away from the conversation.
Look for people whom you can safely talk to about the news, and whom you don’t mind listening to in return. You both may need to vent sometimes. They may be able to give you ideas for what to do, support you with your own struggles, and help you feel like you aren’t going crazy.
If your stress from current events is still very high, or you think it’s feeding into other problems like anxiety, depression, or tension with your loved ones, it may help to talk to a therapist. Therapy can give you more personalized tools for stress and difficult interactions with people you know. Feel free to contact me if you think that may be useful for you.