Bad news is a regular thing for us now, it seems. In the last two years, news about the pandemic, the economy, gun violence, protests, political mayhem, and more have kept us in a constant state of unease. Most recently, the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe V. Wade has had a huge impact on mental health. Our world seems to have shifted dramatically basically overnight, and coming to terms with that is complicated. We’re living through a difficult time, and with the ubiquity of social media, it’s all too easy to see the kinds of bad things that are happening across the globe. It can be hard to take care of your mental health when the news is hard because it’s especially hard to unplug these days.
As a species, we’ve never had to deal with this kind of influx of information before. Our minds aren’t wired for it yet, because technology moves at a way faster speed than human evolution. In the past, our worlds were much smaller. We knew the people in our local spheres and often didn’t move beyond them, so the scope of the world seemed much smaller. Reporting moved much slower, so news of disasters or misfortune around the world wasn’t at our fingertips the way they are now.
This is not to say that technology or social media are bad. There are so many wonderful benefits to the internet and technology, including the way it keeps us connected, having the breadth of human knowledge just a few clicks away, and how it helps us learn more about ourselves.
There can be times, though, when the news is overwhelming or heartbreaking. Decisions that are made by a select few have real impacts on people’s lives, and it can bring up a lot of grief to deal with those impacts. These decisions can be especially hard on marginalized communities, who are always the most vulnerable to the impacts.
What happens when you’re upset about the news?
When we’re upset or distressed, our nervous system is activated. Our bodies are constantly searching for danger to keep us safe. Historically, this came in very handy because it warned us about things like predators or danger. These days, the way our nervous systems jump into action can lead to more distress, because the way our bodies react doesn’t always fit the way we live now.
When we’re afraid or stressed, our sympathetic nervous system kicks on and jumps into the fight, flight, freeze, or fawn mode. You may have heard of some or all of these before. Fight means you deal with whatever threat you’re facing in an aggressive manner. Flight means you run away from the threat. Freeze means you are unable to move or numb. Finally, the fawn response happens when you try to please someone to avoid a conflict.
How Care for your Mental Health When the News is Hard
Just as our nervous systems can be activated, they can also be regulated. When you’re feeling distressed at the news and don’t know what to do to feel better, here are a few ways to care for your mental health:
Limit your screen time
It’s hard to avoid the news and people’s reactions to it when we’re scrolling through social media or constantly online. Most phones now have a function that can limit screen time, or at least keep track of it for you. You can even block apps at certain times or after a set amount of time spent on the app.
It can also be helpful to set and enforce strict online boundaries. It’s so easy to get pulled into something online that can drain you of your energy. Try to do a social media audit so you’re only following people who make you feel good about yourself or who you’re happy to see. Decide what a realistic online presence looks like for you, even if that means not responding to every message or blocking people who cross your boundaries.
Use a container strategy
This technique comes from trauma treatment. In therapy, lots of times topics will come up that are upsetting or hard to manage. It can be helpful to imagine a mental container that can help hold all of that complexity until the next time you are in a safe space (like therapy) to deal with it.
Close your eyes, and in your mind’s eye imagine a container. It can be anything you want – a filing cabinet, a plastic storage tote, a pencil case, a shoebox, etc. It can be plain or decorated, whatever you imagine works. Once you have a clear picture of your container in your head, imagine putting anything that you aren’t feeling ready to deal with at the moment (thoughts, memories, new information, feelings, etc.) inside the container and shutting the lid. You can even check to make sure it’s secure in there before opening your eyes back up.
Visualizing putting things into your container can help you keep them out of your mind until you’re prepared to deal with them, ideally with some support to help you through.
Spend time feeling your feelings
Once you are in a safe place to deal with your feelings, it’s important to take the time to acknowledge them. It can be hard to describe how you feel sometimes, so it can be helpful to do a body scan and notice where you feel tension or discomfort to get started. Checking with an emotion wheel can also give you suggestions for feelings that are hard to name.
Sometimes feeling your feelings can be done through journaling or talking it out. Other times, it’s helpful to involve your physical body to move through difficult emotions. Try shaking your body, dancing around, doing some yoga, going for a walk, or something else that makes your body feel good.
Remember to rest
Caring for your mental health is a long game. It means figuring out what your needs are and then meeting them consistently. A big part of caring for your mental health, especially when you’re upset, is to take time to rest. You might need more sleep than usual or feel less energized than you normally are when your mental health is struggling. Try to listen to your body and honor the urge to rest and take it easy where you can.
Think locally + get involved
Once you’ve spent some time feeling your feelings and processing your grief, it might be easier to imagine what you can do next. There are always ways to get involved and support causes you care about. Often there are community organizations on the ground already doing important work in your city, and they usually need support in some way.
It can be hard to focus on things at the national or global level when you’re overwhelmed. A great way to start is to think locally and focus on your community. If you know folks who are involved in a cause, see if they need any assistance or donations.
Are you struggling with the news right now? Working with one of our therapists can give you a safe space to work out your feelings and practice coping strategies that work for you. Get in touch with us today to set up an appointment.