In today’s world, we have news updates available at all times. Whether they come from our phones or computers, through social media, or the TV, the 24-hour news cycle is pretty much unavoidable. Although it is good to stay informed, much of the news we are presented with focuses on negative reports and stories. Taking in negative information regularly can take its toll on mental health and wellbeing, creating feelings of anxiety and stress. Facing a barrage of bad news – updates on social injustices, politics, war, and crime, as well as crises such as the cost of living, climate change, and Covid-19 – can cause a range of emotions such as anger, sadness, or fear. Witnessing coverage on disastrous events or threats to our daily lives can cause an increase in cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, which triggers heightened levels of anxiety . We are built to deal with small amounts of stress in our lives, but additional stress from scary headlines can cause a build-up, which can put us at risk of serious health issues .
As humans, we have never before been subjected to the consumption of such vast amounts of distressing information, or any information for that matter, and quite often, we don’t know how to deal with it. This feeling of overwhelm can be described as ‘information overload’ , in which the amount or intensity of information exceeds a person’s processing capacity, which can lead to an array of problems such as anxiety and poor decision making. It can also lead to feelings of hopelessness or a lack of control, with many people not knowing how to healthily disengage with the news while staying in touch, and with others wanting to help but feeling unable, stuck, or ‘paralyzed by fear’ .
However, there are some things that we can do to reduce news anxiety.
Let’s take climate change for example. We know that it is having crucial implications on our planet, and many, particularly young people, are experiencing feelings of anxiety and uncertainty around their future. While learning about the consequences of climate change is important for our understanding, it is equally, if not more important, to focus on ways in which we can take action on a personal level. By focusing on managing what is in our own control, and remembering that every little helps, we can reduce our anxiety and support our own well-being all whilst contributing to a greater cause. For example, spending time on an environmental cause such as litter picking can help to support local communities and personal wellbeing. We can also seek comfort in the work that millions of individuals are taking on worldwide to tackle our shared problem, and support charities by donating or volunteering.
Taking action is one of the best ways to reduce news anxiety, as well as feelings of helplessness or guilt, but there are also things we can do to improve general anxiety. For example, keeping active and practicing mindfulness are two ways that have been proven to positively impact quality of life, alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety, and improve mood. Furthermore, connecting and spending time with loved ones, friends, and family, can help to reduce anxiety and get away from some of the negative information that causes anxiety. It is also important for parents of children with concerns about the news to talk openly and honestly about their concerns, and to help them feel empowered to take action and make a difference, however small that may be .
To summarise, we can cope with and reduce news anxiety by:
Unplugging from the news when it gets too much. This might mean trying to reduce media consumption, placing limits on screen time, or designating a specific time slot each day to catch up on the news, rather than round-the-clock access to headlines.
Focusing on what we can control. Rather than dwelling on the bad news, we can do what we can with what we’ve got. This could be taking action through volunteering, charity fundraising, or voting in polls.
Taking care of our mental health and wellbeing. Improving mental health can help us to better react to and cope with bad news. This could be through practices such as mindfulness, keeping active, or taking up a hobby.
Reconnect. It is easy to forget about the immediate world around us. Spending time in nature or with loved ones can help us to reconnect with ourselves and with others.
If you or someone you know is struggling with news anxiety or are negatively impacted by difficult feelings related to negative news in the media, or a broader anxiety issue, it may also be useful to consider professional help. Therapy or counselling can be useful to reduce feelings of anxiety, for example CBT can help with understanding how thoughts, feelings, and behaviours interact, and how to improve negative patterns. Here at Surrey Therapy Practice, we have a range of experienced therapists, counsellors, and psychologists who can help with feelings of anxiety. We offer a range of therapies and treatments for issues linked to climate anxiety including low mood, stress and anxiety, and sleep issues. If you would like to make an enquiry, contact us here.