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Healthy Strategies for Uncertain Times: How to protect your mental health in times of distressing news

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Daily, we’re subject to a constant stream of challenging news headlines and social media posts – pandemics, strikes, economic instability, political conflict and natural disasters are all concerning events that will inevitably occupy our thoughts and even influence our behaviours. Sometimes, we’re not even sure how to react.

What's clear, however, is that bad news can be very distressing for us as we attempt to process everything. It’s a question of just how we manage to deal with the news that will impact our mental health for better or worse.

In uncertain times, our anxious minds can gravitate towards the worst-case scenario, and while it’s easy to feel confused and powerless in the face of bad news, there are strategies you can adopt to maintain your mental health. These tips will help you remain resilient in the face of distressing news.

Limit Your Information Intake

It’s normal to feel stress when we receive bad news – something like a pandemic is new to everyone, so typically we are going to feel more anxious about it. However, if the amount of information and news we consume is negatively impacting our mental health, then it’s time to step back and ask ourselves where we’re getting our information from – and whether it’s all necessary information (such as an official government announcement) versus everything else.

It’s also important to know what news sources you’re getting information from; try to limit the amount of time you’re spending reading everything.

“I caution against reading every single post and article in search of answers and certainties,” says Dr. Katelyn Gomes, a clinical psychologist with MindBeacon. Seeking out information is a useful thing, but when there’s too much information, it can feel overwhelming and cause anxiety and panic.

Of course, some of us may be tempted to take a different tack altogether and simply ignore everything – the ‘head in the sand’ approach, which isn’t necessarily a healthy option either; Keep in mind that there’s always a continuum between ignoring the problem and concentrating on it because you’re anxious.

Ideally, we want to locate the sweet spot between recognizing uncertain times, and working on those emotions, rather than fuel our anxiety through overexposure.

Understand Our Negativity Bias and How It Works

If you’ve ever wondered why bad news seems to grab your attention more than neutral or good news, it’s not that there’s simply more bad news out there; our brains are actually more sensitive to unpleasant news – something called the Negativity Bias.

It’s helpful to notice how anxiety can pull some of us towards negative information. If you’re pulled into a negativity bias, when negative things like bad news can have a stronger effect on our mental well being, try instead to pull yourself towards the neutral or the positive.

“If you know that you’re predisposed to anxiety, it helps to recognize the patterns,” adds Gomes. “It’s okay to worry, but we don’t want to be consumed by worry.”

Prioritize Calming, Healthy Activities

Often when we encounter stressful news that takes a toll on our mental well being, it’s our physical well being that’s soon neglected. By doing so, we’re forgetting the crucial relationship between our mind and our body – and the positive impact that physical health can have on our stress levels. Effectively, when we’re feeling overwhelmed and panicked, we’re not making the best choices.

With that insight in mind, it’s helpful to find something to help you calm down a little bit – meditation, yoga, going for a walk. It also helps to maintain a healthy lifestyle in terms of your nutrition – exercise and healthy eating are things we tend to throw out the window when our stress takes over. 

Maintain Your Social Connections

We’re social creatures, that’s a given. And so especially in times of distress, it’s important to maintain connections with our friends, family, and co-workers.

Social connections are part of a healthy lifestyle, so even when we’re feeling overwhelmed with bad news, it’s still important to maintain them. If we take the isolation and social distancing around the virus pandemic as an example, it’s an opportunity to connect with others online or over the phone instead, and use that time to  talk about what you’d normally talk about, the positive or neutral things, while limiting how much you talk about these stress-inducing issues.

Distressing news is never an easy thing to live through, especially in an era when information comes at us so quickly. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and anxious, but with patience, support, and self-awareness, it’s also possible to maintain your mental health. In trying times, it’s our resiliency that gets us through after all – it’s just how well we nurture that resiliency that really matters.

It’s a question of just how we manage to deal with the news that will impact our mental health for better or worse.

 

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