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Managing Overwhelming News: A Counsellor's Top 5 Tips for Coping with Distressing World Events

It is no surprise that people often find themselves grappling with a whirlwind of emotions in a world constantly bombarded by breaking news and 24/7 media coverage. Complex feelings of shock, grief, horror, sadness, and disbelief can appear as we witness significant world events. 

For some of us, the feelings are huge and overwhelming. We cannot sit and witness these events dispassionately from the comfort of our loungerooms. We feel it all intensely.

As a counsellor, I support people struggling to come to terms with the complex and mixed emotions triggered by distressing news. 

If you're a person who is feeling particularly impacted by current world events, in this article, I offer five tips to help you navigate and manage these challenging emotions.

Validate Your Emotions:

Firstly, it's essential to acknowledge and validate the range of emotions stirred by distressing world events. Understanding that these emotions are a natural response is vital for mental health. Allow yourself the time and space to feel and express these emotions without judgment. All are valid!

You may find that seeking support from friends, family, or a professional counsellor is helpful and validating at this time.

Seek Perspective and Understanding:

Understanding world events and what has led to the current situation can be part of coming to terms with what is happening. Seeking information can also help alleviate feelings of helplessness and despair. Educating yourself about the complexities surrounding the issues at hand can feel empowering, too, enabling you to take action or contribute to discussions. There are diverse perspectives, and being well-informed helps you form your opinion.

Limit Your Exposure:

On the other hand, we live in an era of information overload, and while it is essential to stay informed, setting boundaries around media consumption can be vital for mental well-being. Constant exposure to distressing news can have a tangible impact on our nervous system, so it's essential to recognise the potential impact. 

Designate times for catching up on the news, and consider switching off notifications. This allows you to control the influx of distressing information and gives you space to process and reflect on the news without feeling overwhelmed.

Sometimes, there can be an almost compulsive need to find out more and then more information. You might ask yourself, "Why can't I stop when I know it distresses me?" 

You see, the human mind is a problem solver. When we experience emotional distress, the mind considers it a problem to solve. Persistent gathering of information beyond what would be reasonably necessary to stay informed and educated might be your mind's way of trying to 'problem-solve' your emotional distress.

Young woman reporter standing in street
We live in a 24/7 news cycle.

Meanwhile, the constant information gathering might lead to an increase in distress. Notice what your nervous system is doing. Is it in a state of hyperarousal? Fight? Flight? Freeze? 

Are you doomscrolling? The more you practice the behaviour of doomscrolling, the more rewarding it feels. Consider that your brain may be seeking dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. The flipside, though, is the risk of increased stress and prolonged feelings of anxiety, helplessness, and even depression. 

Is your social media news feed filled with news of devastating world events? Consider finding ways to manage your scrolling time or adjusting what appears in your feed and notifications. Consider the way scrolling impacts your mood. How is your nervous system responding?

If you notice that you're spending significant time on devices, you can download my free infographic on 5 Ways to Unplug. Stick it on your fridge as a reminder to unplug.

Practice Self-Care:

Whether going for a walk, practicing mindfulness, or engaging in a hobby, self-care can help manage stress and improve emotional well-being. Taking a break to listen to some music or connect with nature can help maintain resilience. Prioritise activities that rejuvenate you. 

Finding creative outlets to express your thoughts and feelings can be helpful. Rituals such as lighting a candle, gathering for peace rallies, making flags, and painting posters all serve as a means of expression.

Journalling, songwriting, poetry, music, and art can all serve as ways to honour and express the emotions that are showing up for you.

"Radical acceptance is the courage to face and accept reality, our current experience, what's happening now." - Tara Brach

Channel Emotions into Positive Action:

Knowing how to take action in the face of global events can be challenging. Finding ways to take action can be a coping mechanism, provide a sense of purpose, and help redirect feelings of helplessness. 

Moving toward action can be helpful in situations where we feel out of control. Even small actions can be beneficial to channel emotions, whether volunteering, fundraising, activism, or supporting relevant causes.

Managing Overwhelming News

Managing overwhelming news is not easy. It is essential to prioritise your mental health in the face of alarming and distressing world events such as humanitarian crises, human rights abuses, genocide, and war. It is natural to experience complex emotions responding to such news, especially in the face of the 24/7 news cycle.

Practice self-care by validating your emotions, educating yourself through reliable news sources, avoiding endless doomscrolling, and channeling your emotions into positive action. Remember to take time out from the news, connect with essential things, and know that it's okay to seek support in the face of challenging times.


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