How to Balance Staying Informed and Not Being Overwhelmed By Stressful News

  • With multiple crises affecting people around the globe, stress levels are increasing for many.
  • With social media and 24-hour cable networks, staying on top of the news can feel like an all-consuming event.
  • Experts say watching the news in moderation can be key in being able to stay informed without feeling hopeless or overly stressed.

From a global pandemic to following political news at home, simply tuning into the news may be extremely stressful or upsetting for many people right now.

If you have been experiencing signs of stress due to updates on the state of the world, you are not alone.

“Living during a pandemic the last 2 years have been emotionally draining for most people around the world, resulting in increased incidence of depression, anxiety, and substance use. This more recent conflict is only worsening people’s mental health,” Dr. Ami Baxi, a psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York said in an earlier interview.

Stress is everywhere and part of daily life, but it can be particularly heightened right now because of multiple major news stories, and keeping up with the news can also contribute to some of the stress.

Seeking to stay on top of current events may help some people feel involved.

But because there is so much uncertainty in the world right now, watching or reading the news nonstop can make our stress and anxiety worse, which can be paralyzing.

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, checking the news or social media may feel comforting at the moment, but the effect is short-lived.

“Due to near-constant access to the news 24/7, it can be challenging to moderate our consumption, particularly when there are critical, important, major world events taking place that the media is covering,” said Dr. Amanda Spray, clinical associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and the director of the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Center at NYU Langone Health.

“When news is consumed in extremes, it can be detrimental to one’s mental health,” Spray added.

For example, she says, if someone is exposed to the atrocities of the Ukrainian war repeatedly via the media, it can trigger existing mental health diagnoses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“The recent war can be perceived as more needless suffering and death after more than 2 years of needless death and loss due to the pandemic,” Spray said. “Even prior to the war, there has been a sense of collective distress without much collective joy or ‘wins’ experienced recently.”

Spray also noted that the news might lead some people to feel hopeless.

“The pandemic is still very much present, with seemingly no end in sight, and causes people to approach their hopefulness with some degree of hesitancy,” Spray said. “People are looking for more indicators that there is much to be hopeful for, and this war is instead leading some to feel increasingly hopeless.”

Symptoms of stress vary, but signs include chronic fatigue and disruption in sleep and changes in libido, acne, headaches, chronic pain, and frequent sickness.

If you have been experiencing any of these symptoms, it could be a sign that you are stressed. You may also experience digestive issues, appetite changes, sweating, or a rapid heartbeat.

Despite the stressful events, taking care of yourself should be a priority, experts say. The most important thing you can do is remember what you can control. Taking care of yourself can be the first step to feeling better overall.

One of the ways we can do that is to cut the stress off at the source — turn off the news.

“It is crucially important to engage in self-awareness and check-in with yourself regarding how much news you are currently consuming, how repetitive it is versus presenting new information, and the impact it is having on your mental health,” said Spray.

Ask yourself how your mood is at various points during the day, and see if you are still doing the things that bring you joy.

“A helpful strategy to improve feelings of hopelessness is to allow yourself to experience these feelings, connect these feelings to your values, and moving toward values-aligned action,” Spray said.

Finding an activity that makes you feel like you are doing something about it can help you feel less powerless. For example, some individuals find that volunteering for an organization that supports causes they are interested in can help.

“It is important to talk about the distress you are experiencing with others,” she added. “Too often, we sit alone with discomfort because we worry about burdening others. However, in these cases, it is very likely we are experiencing the same distress and would welcome a chance to share with someone else.”

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