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Woman reading news on laptop

How to take care of your mental health in light of distressing news

Mental health · Mar 18, 2022

The news can be distressing. In an era when information is constantly available, it is all too easy to often be confronted with disturbing headlines, photos and videos which may cause feelings of shock, fear and disbelief. Managing these feelings is all the more difficult in the context of burnout and coping fatigue due to the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are some things you can do right now that may help lessen the toll on your mental health when the news is particularly distressing.

Pursue a small, actionable task 

One of the reasons why negative news is so distressing is because more often than not, the situation is out of your control. The human brain craves predictability, and feelings of uncertainty can cause us anxiety. Spending time on hobbies and nursing your creativity can be a valuable distraction. A small task that is within your control, like making a meal, reading a chapter of a favourite book or pursuing a DIY project around the house can be a fulfilling way to take your mind off of the situation for a while.

Limit your media intake

It’s important to be mindful of what kind and how much information you are consuming. While some prefer to avoid upsetting information in the media, others are comforted by reading everything they can find. It’s important to find the right balance between staying informed and feeling overwhelmed, and this is different for everyone. It can be easy to be bombarded with graphic images and coverage from a quick news check. Being mindful of this, and the toll it can take on you as well as other members of your household, is important. 

Staying off social media and relying only on credible news sources may be beneficial. Another way to be mindful of media intake is to allocate specific times of day to check the news. Instead of checking constantly throughout the day, decide in advance what time you will check, and avoid checking right before bed.

It’s important to know when your news intake may be causing too much stress. If you find that you are becoming more irritable with friends or family, or spending more time on your phone than you want to, these may be signs to curb your media intake. Intentionally turning off news feeds or turning to positive and distracting content can help from becoming overwhelmed.

Practice mindfulness 

Mindfulness techniques can help bring you back to the present moment and reduce stress. For some, this may take the form of a meditation app or a gratitude journal. Practicing gratitude can help improve your sleep,1 build your resilience2 and increase your overall sense of wellbeing.3 For others, focusing on your breath may provide this reset. 

Studies4 have shown the benefits that getting outside may have for one’s mental health. Even if it’s only for a 10-minute walk, this quick break can be a valuable way to decompress.

Be kind to yourself

Practicing self-compassion is important. You may have less energy to devote to big projects, whether at home or at work. Cut yourself some slack if you are feeling distracted or unmotivated, and try to treat yourself the way you would treat a friend in the same scenario. By practicing loving kindness towards yourself every day, you are ultimately building your resilience too.

Connect with others 

To help manage psychological well-being, talk to loved ones about how you’re feeling. Reaching out to a friend or family member may help you feel less anxious. Of course, you may also find yourself being the support person for someone else, particularly children. 

Talking to children and teens about distressing news 

Taking care of yourself is critical in being able to be there for your children. As a parent or caregiver, being able to be a reassuring presence for young ones will be easier if you have also been looking after yourself. But how do you actually talk with kids about distressing news? Depending on their age, conversations may be very different. Younger children in particular may need more soothing reassurance that they are safe. In families with children of different ages, it may be worth talking with each child individually. This allows you to avoid one child asking questions that another child may not be old enough to handle or understand.Children can be curious, but as a parent or caregiver, focus on simply answering their questions clearly but without going into any more detail than necessary. It’s okay to admit that you may not have all the answers, and that you will keep them informed as you yourself find out more. Before the conversation ends, ask them what they understand about what you told them. This way, you can make sure that they interpreted your explanation the way you intended.

Older children and teens will be more likely to find out information from social media. Invite them to show you what they are looking at and ask how it makes them feel. Model critical thinking and how and where to seek out reliable information. It may be helpful to recall other crises that were resolved to reassure teens that there is hope. Regardless of age, encourage regular routines in a nurturing, predictable environment.

Caring for children and youth can be difficult when you are struggling to keep up with your own emotions. This is why it's so important to take care of yourself, so you can support the young people in your life. You may not have all the answers they’re looking for, but simply being “there” can be what’s most important.

Don’t forget to take care of your physical health

There are several things you can do to help protect your mental health, but it’s important to remember the role that physical health plays too.  

Sometimes in order to help reduce stress and anxiety, basic self-care can make a big difference. This includes: 

  • Getting enough sleep (7-9 hours5 a night is ideal)

  • Eating nutritious foods 

  • Staying hydrated

  • Limiting alcohol consumption

  • Exercising daily

When it comes to exercise, even a small amount of physical activity can be beneficial6 and help you reset. Stretching over lunch, taking the stairs or going for a walk are all small ways to get physical activity into your day.

There are many factors at play when it comes to maintaining good mental health. In addition to being mindful of your media intake, eating well, getting enough rest and physical activity can lay the foundation for a better sense of personal well-being when unpredictable and distressing events occur. 

Support is available 

Sometimes though, it may be helpful to speak with someone. TELUS Health Care Centres offers psychology and counseling services in-person and virtually in British Columbia and Alberta. Mental health counseling is also available virtually through TELUS Health MyCare in Alberta, BC, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Quebec. Additionally, TELUS Health Virtual Care, our virtual care service offered by employers for employees, offers mental health support and primary care, and may be available to you through your employer.


References

  1. A;, J. M. B. J. R. A. S. (2021, October 16). The impact of a brief gratitude intervention on subjective well-being, biology and sleep. Journal of health psychology. Retrieved December 8, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25736389/

  2. Wood, A. M., Maltby, J., Gillett, R., Linley, P. A., & Joseph, S. (2008, August). The role of gratitude in the development of social support, stress, and depression: Two longitudinal studies. Journal of Research in Personality. Retrieved December 9, 2021, from https://www.research.manchester.ac.uk/portal/en/publications/the-role-of-gratitude-in-the-development-of-social-support-stress-and-depression-two-longitudinal-studies(1be43a26-9155-405f-acc3-f4126ff161b8).htmlImprove.

  3. A;, J. M. B. J. R. A. S. (2021, October 16). The impact of a brief gratitude intervention on subjective well-being, biology and sleep. Journal of health psychology. Retrieved December 8, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25736389/

  4. Bratman, G. N., Daily, G. C., Levy, B. J., & Gross, J. J. (2015, March 3). The benefits of nature experience: Improved affect and cognition. Landscape and Urban Planning. Retrieved March 17, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0169204615000286

  5. Watson, N. F., Badr, M. S., Belenky, G., Bliwise, D. L., Buxton, O. M., Buysse, D., Dinges, D. F., Gangwisch, J., Grandner, M. A., Kushida, C., Malhotra, R. K., Martin, J. L., Patel, S. R., Quan, S. F., & Tasali, E. (2015, June 1). Recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult: A joint consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. Sleep. Retrieved March 17, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4434546/

  6. Gomutbutra, P., Yingchankul, N., Chattipakorn, N., Chattipakorn, S., & Srisurapanont, M. (2020, September 15). The effect of mindfulness-based intervention on brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF): A systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled trials. Frontiers. Retrieved March 17, 2022, from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.02209/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1437459_69_Psycho_20200922_arts_A

Authored by:
Natalie Franz
Registered psychologist

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