Behavioral Health

6 Ways to Safeguard Your Mental Health Amid the News

Living in a 24-hour news cycle where we are constantly bombarded by information can be overwhelming sometimes. Our experts have suggestions of ways to cope.

May. 4, 2023 5   min read

A young woman on a couch scrolling on her smartphone

News stories covered in national media often bring out strong emotions in millions of Americans – including frustration, anger, and helplessness.

Whether the focus is on gun violence, natural disasters, stories of war, discrimination and injustice, or other topics, it can be overwhelming to deal with the constant nature of negative and sometimes painful news.

Joshua Andrzejewski, PhD, a psychologist with Rochester Regional Health, brings some suggestions about how to healthily process those feelings we have with heavy news stories.

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‘It is not uncommon’

Frequently reading and watching news about violence often leads to feelings of sadness, fear, anxiety, and sometimes an empathic response for the victims of violence. It is not uncommon for someone to experience some vicarious trauma or fear.

“It is expected and normal to have negative reactions to negative news,” Dr. Andrzejewski said. “It would be unusual if we didn’t feel that way. We might feel more numb sometimes so we don’t constantly experience intense responses.”

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - Fifth Edition (DSM-5), which is published by the American Psychiatric Association, includes vicarious trauma as a treatable condition for eligible patients.

To help safeguard our mental health, here are several ideas about dealing with negative and violent news that seems unrelenting at times.

Ways to help process things:

1. Reach out to friends or loved ones

Talking, texting, or simply being with another person who you trust is often helpful. Having conversations to make sure you are both okay and taking the time to listen to how they are processing a news event can be grounding.

2. Set boundaries with conversations

For some people, talking with certain friends or family members might lead to emotionally charged debates. Use your life experience to decide not only who to reach out to, but how to set boundaries with them. In the early stages of processing the event, seek out someone who respects and values your point of view.

3. Avoid coping with substances

Using alcohol, tobacco, or illicit substances might provide temporary relief from difficult emotions for some people, but has the potential to create substance dependence down the road. Choosing other methods of coping or processing difficult events is important.

4. Get outside

Whether it’s taking a walk along the street or going to a park to be in nature, being outdoors is shown to have positive effects on a person’s physical and mental wellbeing. Research in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health shows links between “nature exposure and improved cognitive function, brain activity, blood pressure, mental health, physical activity, and sleep.

5. Take time away

People might consider taking some of the time spent reading and watching news stories and replacing that time with something that brings them enjoyment, such as playing with a pet, expanding a current hobby, or starting a new hobby.

Continuing to press into negative feelings and emotions can lead to feelings of sadness or compassion fatigue. Even if the change is temporary, taking care of mental health in the short term can have a positive impact on a person’s overall health in the long term.

“The more we allow ourselves to drift from things that are positive and helpful for us, the fewer positive emotions we will experience,” Dr. Andrzejewski said.

6. Support the cause

In the midst of heavy news, a person might feel powerless to change a situation that has been impacting society for a number of years. Some people choose to make changes by pursuing activism.

Some positive ways that someone might consider supporting a cause include registering voters or allowing others to voice their feelings in a public forum. This can help to fuel constructive behaviors and emotions for everyone involved.

If someone is struggling with overwhelming anxiety and fear that prevents them from fulfilling their roles and responsibilities and feels they don’t have anyone to talk with, counseling is available. Different forms of therapy such as exposure and response prevention therapy can help people acknowledge and live with those feelings while focusing on the things they need to do in their life.

“Ultimately, people should take a step back and make sure they are providing for their own wellbeing, as well as that of others,” Dr. Andrzejewski said. “It can be hard to be there for others when we are not taking steps to take care of ourselves. If a person is going to be successful in their role, it’s important to take care of their own wellbeing.”

NEXT STEPS Here to Help When It Is Needed Most

When someone’s thoughts or behaviors are becoming concerning, exploring possible treatment might be the first step to take toward helping them. Our providers with Rochester Regional Health are ready to listen and get you the care you need.

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