Will 2021 be as stressful as last year? How to cope with current news in another unprecedented year so far
2020 will be remembered for many things, most of which were stressful, dark and damaging. And it doesn’t seem like 2021 is off to a good start.
New covid rules
Just four days into the new year Boris Johnson announced England’s third national lockdown – schools and non-essential businesses closed – with hopes that the restrictions could be eased “by the middle of February, if things go well and with fair wind in our sails.” Leaving us all wondering; when does lockdown end?
Millions are back into working from home, home-schooling and self-isolating and the NHS on the brink.
Brexit consequences & political turmoil
Brexit news was another major stress the UK faced last year, with a trade deal being reached at the eleventh hour.
Over the pond, the US has seen four people killed as pro-Trump supporters descended on the Capitol Building in Washington DC on Wednesday night.
Another historical event on a list that feels like it will never end, from Covid updates, political turmoils, death and disaster.
Mental health awareness
Mental health experts say tuning into the 24-hour news cycle is taking a huge toll on our mental health and fuelling our anxiety, sadness and hopelessness.
Stephen Buckley from Mind, tells The Independent: “Current news, such as the coronavirus pandemic and events in America, has created a great deal of uncertainty and concern for the future.
“These things naturally affect our mental health, potentially making us feel stressed and anxious.”
While Dr Michael Sinclair adds that constant exposure to shocking news tends to release our stress hormones, making our “fight or flight” response kick in.
“Our body reacts to stressful news stories by pumping out cortisol which makes our heart rate increase and our breathing rate go up. It’s our natural way of dealing with what we view as a threat.
“However we need to recognise when consuming the news starts to become a problem, as excessive stress can lead to anxiety, depression and insomnia.”
So how to combat the news?
Stop the clock
It’s really important to stay up-to-date and informed during these times, but don’t let yourself feel bombarded, says Dr Sinclair. Consider how much news you take in!
He says consider choosing a specific time of day to consume the news and then take a step back.
“It may be a good idea to mute or turn off news notifications on your smartphone, or limit your news intake to reading a morning paper or watching the evening news,” he said.
“Set a curfew if you have to – perhaps 30 minutes a day or ten news stories – and then be strict with yourself and switch off all sources and try not to get drawn into conversations with friends and family about the news.
“It’s also best not to avoid intense news first thing in the morning – which can affect your mood for the rest of the day – or last thing before bed – as this can cause sleep troubles.”
Don’t imagine the worst outcome
Humans have a tendency to catastrophise events – that is, imagining the worst outcome.
Dr Sinclair adds: “There’s no doubt we are living in times of great change, but it’s part of the human instinct to look for threats. It’s an inherited trait from our cave-dwelling ancestors and helps keep us alive.
“However it can lead us to think the worst, which can be unhelpful. It’s healthier to recognise that ‘the worst’ is often a story our mind is telling us, not the reality.
“For example, instead of saying ‘the state of the world is awful’ say ‘I’m having the thought that the state of the world is awful’ to emphasise this is your mind telling you that, not reality.”
Wait for all the facts
When something huge is happening and your anxiety is high tune out and wait until the event has unfolded to read about it.
It can be tempting to stay up all night watching events unfold, but avoid doing so.
“Remember that it takes a while to get all of the facts straight, and that’s it best to wait a while to check out the news,” says Dr Jana Scrivani, a clinical psychologist. “Reading or watching reports on half-truths and speculation will only serve to increase anxiety and stress levels.
“It’s best to stick to reliable news outlets once the event has come to a close, or at least calmed down.”
Between riots, polarised opinions, politics, natural disasters and COVID, the news is and has been pretty dark, so switch off and watch a comedy.
It’s also worth searches for positive news stories.
Senior therapist Sally Baker advises: “Watching intense news items can be exhausting and draining, but instead of doom-scrolling – that is, scrolling down your newsfeed looking at all the bad news – sometimes it’s best to seek out good news items or watch something completely unrelated.
“Comedy films and sitcoms are what we call ‘event-free television.’ Essentially television you can watch without worrying about stress or anxiety because not much happens. It’s gentle escapism, and it’s even better if they make you laugh, as this releases endorphins which are essential for combatting the negative effect the news can have on us.”
There’s no harm in scheduling a “worry time” each day, it’s a common strategy for managing symptoms related to anxiety disorders.
Dr Sinclair says this technique is also helpful for watching and digesting the news cycle. “Scroll through the news, acknowledge anything you are worried about, and make plans for addressing any issues,” he says.
“Then choose a time to worry about it – but make sure it’s not near bedtime. After your worry time is over try not to dwell on things and tell yourself you can worry about it again during tomorrow’s worry time if needs be.”
It’s okay to be stressed
Mind says: “It’s natural to feel upset and worried when things are up in the air, but if feelings are overwhelming or affecting your daily life, it might be worth taking steps to look after yourself or seeking help.
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