How to cope with news anxiety

24-hour rolling news is designed to hijack our attention and keep us distracted. Being informed is important, but not when it negatively impacts your psychological wellbeing. We explain how to deal with news anxiety to support your mental health, as well as young people’s.

News anxiety?

News anxiety was first discussed by psychologists in the early 1990s when 24-hour rolling news became a phenomenon on television. Today, the news sits in our pockets, bags, and desks, via smart devices and laptops making it hard to avoid

News can cause us to feel an array of emotions, including:

  • Happy
  • Angry
  • Sad
  • Curious
  • Upset.

Social media and online news coverage often covers negative reports and stories. Negative news generates increased levels of cortisol in our bodies (your body’s main stress hormone) leading to heightened levels of anxiety which we are not designed to sustain. This can lead to potential physical and mental health problems or unhealthy habits including:

  • ‘Doom-scrolling’ websites and social media feeds
  • Checking your phone or other devices every few minutes
  • Unable to focus or concentrate on tasks
  • Sense of hopelessness
  • Social isolation.

So, how can you reset your relationship with the news?

Focus on what you can control

Much of what happens in the news is beyond your control. You might feel consumed by reports and stories, but it’s important to remember that in many cases you cannot affect the events being reported.

If you’re feeling anxious, angry, or upset, think about the things you can control in your life.

Here are some practical suggestions you might want to try:

Only check your phone at certain times of the day

Psychological research shows that human beings cannot multitask effectively. If you struggle at not looking at your phone, you can try:

  • Keeping it in another room
  • Turning off notifications
  • Switching your phone off.

Reconfigure your tech settings

You have the power. You can control your social media and news intake by:

  • Using a site-blocker to control the hours you can visit certain websites including news sites
  • Turning off pop-up notifications on social media
  • Setting your phone and computer to offline mode when focusing.

Choose how you respond to distressing news

Distressing news can be very upsetting, but you can decide how to respond. You could:

  • Talk to a friend or loved one about how you’re feeling
  • Practice mindfulness or another meditation to help reset your mind
  • Step away from your phone and other devices for short or longer periods
  • Go outside for a walk or a run – any physical activity can help
  • Get involved with a community activity to support something you care deeply about – this could even be related to news that has affected you. Eg. charity fundraising to support war refugees.

Spend time with people you care about

You can arrange to see or speak with friends and family. If you get social anxiety, that is ok. You can see or speak with people at another time when you’re feeling less anxious.

Interrogate your thoughts

Challenge unhelpful thinking and put your thoughts on trial. You could ask yourself:

  • Why do I feel this way?
  •  Is this something I can control? If not, what can I do to help myself?
  • What have I done before that makes me feel better when this happens?
  • What haven’t I tried yet?

News often reports the worst-case scenarios, and we tend to focus only on these. It is easy to forget about the things you can do to help.

Channel your anxiety by accepting responsibility for your actions

Climate change. War. Covid-19. You cannot assume responsibility for all of these. They are out of your control. However, there are smaller actions you can take and be responsible for including:

  • Recycling at home
  • Writing to your MP and participating in local and general elections
  • Maintaining a healthy routine eg. balanced diet, exercise, social time with friends and family, playing games, reading books, asking for professional help when you need it.

If something doesn’t work, try something else

We are all individuals, and we respond differently to stress. If you try something to help you manage your relationship with the news and it doesn’t work, try something else. What works for one person, may not work for you.

Ask for professional help when you need it

If you are finding the news is negatively impacting your mental health, then you should always ask for help from a professional. This could be:

  • Your GP
  • A counselling service
  • A psychiatrist
  • Local mental health community support groups.

Supporting children and young people

Offering children and young people the opportunity to talk about what’s going on can start the conversation about how they’re feeling about the news. It’s good to remember to:

  • Establish the facts in a suitable manner
  • Be clear that you are there to listen and support them with their feelings
  • Encourage them to continue their normal healthy routines eg. socialising with friends, school, etc.

Healthy routines are important to children and adults alike. They can support our mental health and stabilise our emotions.

Despite what may be happening in the outside world, maintaining a healthy routine will help you and any children or young people you care for feel more emotionally secure and grounded.

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