Over the past couple of weeks, the news cycle has been incredibly challenging for everyone – but in particular, for women and marginalised genders. From further details emerging about the tragic murder of Sarah Everard, whose deeply upsetting death sparked a deluge of women sharing their stories of safety fears and sexual harassment, followed by the equally sad killing of Sabina Nessa, it's been a lot to take.
If you've found yourself feeling emotionally drained by the news, you're not alone. It's hard having to read upsetting things (even if you aren't directly connected to them) and on top of that many, of us experience a sense of added pressure to publicly react to said news on social media, or share our own stories in response, too. This can create feelings of anxiety and cause you to overthink what to post, and start to feel as though the world is just an awful, angry and hostile place all round.
"Research has shown that if you read something that feels scary, your brain and body will respond as if it were happening directly to you," confirms Claire Goodwin-Fee, MBACP Psychotherapist and founder of Frontline19 (which offers free mental health support for frontline workers), when discussing why reading about the lives of others can have such personal repercussions. "But there are things you can to do mitigate those feelings."
Here's what you can do to cope with an especially tough news cycle (of course, if your feelings of feeling down or anxious are a more long-term fixture, it's always advisable that you reach out to your GP to discuss them, or contact Mind for more information on mental health and seeking support):
Take time out
News stories that illicit an emotional response can leave you feeling fired up and wanting to help make a change for the better. These emotions are vital when it comes to propelling important movements forward and engaging more people to take an active role, but it's important to take care of yourself too – it's okay to take a break and recharge. "Have a news detox, look at the accounts you follow and balance out your news feed with cats, dogs, sparkles or whatever makes you smile," says Goodwin-Fee. "That’s just as important as what is happening in the world."
Try doing something completely separate from current affairs too, such as taking a walk in nature, researching into a creative new hobby, or calling a friend (and if you need, putting boundaries in place with them surrounding discussing the news).
Focus on happy memories
For many, the stories making headlines in recent weeks will have a personal connection, and can trigger the memories of our own distressing past experiences too. When this happens, Goodwin-Fee advises making an effort to dig out positive memories instead. "Practice recalling happier times, such as that holiday on the beach, where you had your eyes shut, could feel the sun on your face, the breeze on your cheeks and you took a deep breath and relaxed," she says. "Your body will respond by releasing calming feel good hormones just by thinking about it."
Diversify your feed
If you're finding the news accounts you follow to be too much, try diversifying your social feeds and the websites you get your headlines from. Listening to a positive podcast (to remind yourself that although there are worrying things going on in the world, there's also a lot of good taking place too), such as Reasons To Be Cheerful, can help, as can following more upbeat news accounts, like The Happy Broadcast, Tank's Good News or Upworthy.
No news before bed
Reading before bed can be relaxing, but you're better off sticking with a non-taxing book or magazine, rather than heavy news (especially dispensed via a screen). "Headlines before bed can over stimulate our brains in a couple of ways," notes Goodwin-Fee. "Firstly, the blue light from your phone or device can stop your brain from producing melatonin, the hormone that helps us to relax and drift off to sleep. By interrupting this natural cycle, we can suffer with memory issues, tiredness, feel more emotionally unstable and overeat."
She also adds that the nature of the stories that you read late at night can stimulate your brain and create a type of stress that then releases hormones into the body, such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine, which will in turn keep you awake and locked into a cycle of overthinking and feeling overwhelmed.
Part of what can make the news cycle feel so intense is that it's easy to catastrophise and get stuck on fretting about the future. It can be helpful to take a moment to pause and reflect on the now – on your own personal circumstances (not those of others that you may have been reading about). Try practicing some steady breathing or writing a gratitude list of all the things you're appreciative of.
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