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We will regularly feature articles from The Synergy Health team and in this article they delve into how to cope with distressing world news.
From the devastating impacts of climate injustice to the war in Ukraine to the ongoing uncertainty around the latest Covid-19 variant, there’s a lot going on that is leaving many of us feeling distressed, anxious, angry, fearful, numb, and somewhat powerless. Feeling overloaded by the occurrence of such heavy events around the world is an understandable and normal human response. What's happening around the world is distressing.
Not only is war a terrifying thing to read about let alone be caught up in, but it’s also throwing many people back into an intense state of anxiety and sense of existential threat they have been experiencing since the pandemic began, even though they are of course entirely different situations.
Thoughts of catastrophe are understandable when we think about any type of crisis. But if you understand how the flow of information about the conflict is impacting you mentally, there are steps you can take to protect your mental health and maintain a sense of peace.
Here are some ways to help manage the anxiety and get on with ordinary life as much as possible, while in no way diminishing the reality of what’s going on.
1. KNOW YOUR LIMITS
Reading the news to understand what’s happening in the world is an important part of being an informed citizen. But news headlines, meant to grab your attention, can do more to incite fear than offer information. The continuous flow of information can be overwhelming.
When you pick a daily time frame to catch up with the news, use that time to read and listen to information from highly credible, ethical, and objective sources.
If you’re not sure how to tell if you’re inundated with the news, take stock of the impact it’s having on you.
It is important to be honest with yourself, and honour yourself as it relates to knowing what the threshold of your mental health is. Ask yourself:
- What are my limits?
- How much news is too much news for me?
2. AVOID DOOM SCROLLING
Experts agree that if you're feeling anxious, avoid doom scrolling - the act of spending an excessive amount of time consuming negative news. It's something we often do when faced with uncertainty, but instead of filling in the gaps with useful information, we can end up catastrophising.
Limiting your exposure extends to social media. The endless scrolling through stories and infographics while being inundated with virtual noise can create a negative atmosphere of panic and doom. Be conscious of where you get your information: rely on trusted news sources, focus on facts rather than alarmist speculation, don't engage with graphic content. Be wary of sensationalised posts and extreme language designed to manipulate your emotions.
Another tip: Avoid hunting for evidence to support your worst fears. You might find yourself looking for evidence to support your worst thoughts and feelings - the most dramatic news sources or the most harrowing images. Try to avoid going down those rabbit holes, remind yourself about the here and now.
3. TAKE BREAKS FROM CONSUMING NEWS ABOUT THE CONFLICT/TRAGEDY
Witnessing life-threatening and traumatic events, even when you’re witnessing them second-hand can produce trauma responses. Try and monitor the level of images and stories that you’re allowing in, especially when children are in the house. There’s a range of impacts that current events can have and are having on us as a society.
This doesn't always lead to anxiety, but there are some key ways to avoid it: Eat well, get outside, put your phone down, connect with people, rest. These are all pretty basic pieces of advice, but when you're stressed, they can be difficult to do consistently. Similar to the self-care needed when reports of the Covid-19 pandemic were/are unending, set your limits and stick to them.
4. PROTECTING YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
The news never stops. Information is disseminated into the atmosphere all around us. If you decide to take a break from the headlines and the news, what’s next? How can you replace a negative hole with something positive and helpful?
REPLACE DOOM SCROLLING WITH TIME OUTDOORS
Sign out of Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, and Instagram. Take a walk outside and enjoy nature. Being in the outdoors can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Breathing in fresh air has a calming effect and can allow you to centre yourself and stay in the moment.
Yes, you may be struggling with fear; however, acknowledging those feelings, removing media triggers, and relaxing in the great outdoors can be just the helpful remedy you need.
EMBRACE THE MUNDANE
List the anxious, unhelpful thoughts you’re having about the conflict/tragedy and replace them with everyday domestic ones like “I need to get groceries and make a meal plan”, or “I need to help my kids with their homework”. Understand that you can’t stop yourself from feeling anxious about certain events, but you can have a list of things that are more pleasant, more mundane, or less stressful that you can bring to mind when you start to feel overwhelmed.
SPEND TIME WITH LOVED ONES AND PRACTICE GRATITUDE
Although the possibility of conflict is disturbing, be thankful that you live in a generally safe environment. You have access to food, shelter, and medical care if needed. It can help to express gratitude for the basic things that we take for granted. Practicing gratitude isn’t just a fluffy feel-good activity, it’s actually a way of training your attention. What you focus on is what you feel much of the time so direct your attention more strategically.
You can also spend time with your loved ones. Enjoy their company, whether by phone or in person. Talk with them about how you are processing what is going on in the world and give them the space to share their thoughts. By allowing someone else to feel heard and validated, it can help you feel less alone in your feelings.
MAINTAIN YOUR SLEEP AND EXERCISE ROUTINES
Try to go to bed and wake up at a regular time. Avoid too much caffeine and alcohol, which may affect your sleep. Any exercise you can do is a really great way of managing your anxiety response. Plus, when other elements of life feel uncertain, you can create a sense of continuity and rhythm with helpful routines. This isn't about being rigid but creating a sense of predictability when other things feel up in the air.
EAT PROPERLY AND HYDRATE, EVEN IF YOU DON’T FEEL LIKE IT
Your body signals get messed up when you’re anxious, so you have to artificially take over and think about these routines. Eat at regular intervals whether you have an appetite or not, and if you don’t drink enough your body becomes distressed. Meet your basic needs, or things feel much worse. When we are feeling stressed and stretched, often it’s the small things that fuel and replenish us that are the first to get bumped off the priority list. This is a time to prioritise those tiny habits you have control over to help maintain your energy and reserves.
PRACTICE SLOWER BREATHING
When we get anxious or flustered or that sympathetic nervous system (‘fight or flight’) response kicks in, our breathing becomes more rapid and shallow. When we slow down our breathing, it cues the parasympathetic nervous system (‘rest and digest’) response. Any slow breathing technique can have a massive impact in terms of slowing the heart rate down and calming the body and mind.
TAP INTO MEDITATION AND MINDFULNESS
Mindfulness activities, including meditation, or prayer if you are a spiritual person, are powerful tools. They can help take the focus from expecting the worst and get your mind to a place of peace.
A mindfulness practice can help you feel more rooted in the present moment, acknowledging that while there is no way to control what happens in the future, you are safe right now. The practice of taking a slow deep breath and bringing yourself back to the present when emotions intensify can be a huge help as you attempt to process conflict taking place overseas.
And if it applies to your belief system, prayer can serve a similar purpose and allow you to feel a bit more grounded. From a spiritual perspective, prayer and relying on one’s faith is very important during this time. It can actually help to relieve some of the anxiety and depression one may feel.
Regardless of your beliefs, taking the time to be still, focus on your breathing and calm your mind can be helpful practices. Mindfulness is really about being in the present moment rather than the future-focused anxious thoughts in your mind.
REACH OUT AND SUPPORT THOSE AFFECTED
We want to contribute to the solutions and ease the suffering we are witnessing all around us. We can do this by finding ways to offer support. For example, if you're feeling overwhelmed by the impact of climate change, you can lessen your own carbon footprint, change your investments to more ethical ones, sign petitions and lobby the government for bolder climate action. If you're feeling distressed about the war in Ukraine, showing compassion to people who are impacted takes the focus off of yourself and puts it onto others.
Offer moral support to Ukrainian friends who may be worried about their family members. Other friends who have lived through similar invasions may be dealing with PTSD. Members of the military and their family members may be dealing with fears of deployment. Offering a listening ear can make a world of difference to someone who is struggling.
You can also offer financial support through reputable organisations that are doing relief work and environmental protection work. Research shows that helping others (people, planet, and animals) provides a sense of well-being.
TALK TO A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to coping with global disasters because they impact everyone differently. If you or someone you love is feeling debilitated by the events unfolding in the Ukraine, Afghanistan, or in other parts of the world consider talking to a licensed mental health professional. They can offer personalised strategies for managing your anxiety surrounding the crisis.
The difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing climate change have stretched our minds and bodies. Processing another potential crisis may feel daunting and overwhelming. Having methods to handle the fear and emotions that come from dealing with the crisis can help you function and cope in a time of uncertainty.
And remember, as a HealthCarePlus and UniMed policy holder, you are eligible to get three-fully funded mental health and wellbeing sessions with Clearhead through to 31 December 2022. And for Members who've already had three sessions, you'll be able to access another three free sessions from 1 April 2022.
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