How To Protect Your Mental Health When The News Feels Too Much
Content warning: This article discusses simple measures you can take to protect your mental health but is not intended to be an exhaustive list or used to treat or prevent any mental health conditions. If you have or suspect you might be suffering from a mental health condition, please consult your doctor.
Over the past few years in particular, keeping up to date with what is happening around the world has left a lot of us feeling drained and distressed.
When the news seems to cycle between environmental disasters like flooding and bushfires here in Australia, to Covid-19 updates, ongoing wars, and political strife or tragedy like the recent news out of the US, things can seem pretty bleak. It’s easy to spend hours doomscrolling through the updates, but the constant stream of bad news isn’t good for anyone.
In 2020, an article published by the American Sociological Association points to research examining public traumas like terrorist attacks, suggesting higher levels of media exposure can have a negative effect on our mental health.
Their findings also looked at Covid-19 media consumption in particular, highlighting that higher levels of exposure to this news can be associated with greater psychological distress.
Another review published by the American Psychological Association in 2020 examined research around media exposure to community crises and found it can not only have a long-term negative impact on personal health, but on healthcare systems due to heightened stress and anxiety - even if you’re far away or personally removed from the news event.
Don’t you need to stay informed though?
Although staying informed and educated about what’s going on around the world and close to home is important, when the news gets too much, you need to be able to set boundaries for your own wellbeing - especially in those times when there’s a lot going on in your personal life, too.
This can be tricky when most of us have computers and smartphones which allow us to have constant access to stressful information and imagery, so we’ve put together a few tips to help you unplug when your newsfeed is becoming too much.
Remember, everyone’s life circumstances, stress levels, mental health and empathy are different (highly sensitive people, we see you!), so there’s no hard and fast rules.
Experiment, pay attention to how you feel, and know that it’s ok to set boundaries with your news consumption, media exposure and screen time if you think it's taking a toll on your wellbeing.
Set digital boundaries
There are many simple and effective ways to set digital boundaries to limit or manage your media exposure. Here some ideas:
- Don’t check your phone when you first wake up. Instead, try starting your day with some meditation, fresh air, exercise or enjoy a healthy breakfast. Mornings can be a really powerful time to set your mood for the day! If you’re someone who checks your phone, watches or listens to the news in the morning, see how it makes you feel afterwards and if that’s a habit you’re happy to continue.
- Turn your phone off or put it away at least an hour before you go to bed to allow your mind to relax. This might be a win-win, as it can also help improve your sleep.
- If there are certain apps you tend to spend a lot of time on or that are particularly triggering for you, set daily time limits in your phone settings, or allocate specific times of day to check them.
- Choose one or two trustworthy news apps or websites and stick to those, rather than bouncing between 10 different sources of information - a recipe for overwhelm!
- This 2020 article also suggests avoiding speculative stories and to limit repetitively looking at stories that don’t have much (or any) new information.
Take a digital detox
If setting digital boundaries isn’t enough and you need a bigger break, a digital detox could be the right thing for you. This might mean no social media, no news, or no phone use at all.
What rules you make and how long your digital detox lasts is up to you. Some people find staying away from screens for 24 hours or over the weekend is a refreshing break, while others prefer a week or longer without certain apps. You could also make it a regular part of your routine, such as a tech-free Sunday.
Find joy in offline activities
Step away from the screen and pour yourself into things you enjoy that don’t involve your laptop, smartphone, TV or iPad. This could be writing, reading, cooking, knitting, gardening, painting, hiking, pottery, dancing, doing puzzles… the world is your oyster!
Activities like this can bring you a lot of joy, while also giving your eyes and your mind a break.
Prioritise your rest
Ever had something stressful happen to you when you were tired and grumpy? Did you handle it better or worse than if you were well-rested? We can take a pretty good guess!
Generally, stress is far more manageable when you’ve had a good sleep and a clear mind. Remember to take regular breaks throughout your day and make rest days part of your workout schedule to avoid burnout.
If you’re having trouble sleeping due to stress or anxiety, see a professional for advice, or try adding a few calming steps into your bedtime routine, such as a warm shower, herbal tea, gentle stretches, reading a book, or practicing meditation.
Find time to move your body
Increasing blood flow and getting some endorphins pumping is a great way to feel better and clear your head, especially if you can do it with a workout buddy or outside for some fresh air!
In times of high stress, listen to your body and see how you feel after different training styles. If HIIT or strength training makes you feel empowered, energised and resilient - amazing! If a walk or some yoga works better for your mental health, that’s fantastic too.
Stay hydrated and well-fed
Our diet and water intake can play a big role in our mood and overall wellbeing. When you’re not giving your body the nutrients and hydration it needs, this can put extra stress on your body, while a high consumption of fast foods or sugary snacks can leave you feeling lethargic.
When life feels too much, sometimes the last thing you feel like doing is making yourself a healthy meal, but do what you can and keep things simple. Try to prioritise eating more fruit, veggies, protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.
Reach out for support
You’re never alone, even in those moments when it feels like it, and social connection can be a powerful antidote to feelings of stress, anxiety, overwhelm or sadness.
According to Stanford Medicine, strong social connection increases your longevity, strengthens your immune system and can lower anxiety and depression.
Reaching out can be as simple as sending a text message to a loved one to let them know how you’re feeling, a chat on the phone, or an in person catch up over coffee or a walk.
In times when you aren’t sure who to talk to or you think you need more support than what friends or family can offer, get in touch with a healthcare professional or helpline for some advice. Some workplaces also offer confidential employee assistance programs.
A great way to shake that feeling of hopelessness is to find something you can do to make a difference, no matter how small. This could be donating your time or money, giving back to your community, writing to your local politician, cleaning up a nearby park or beach, or simply offering a smile to everyone you meet.
Taking real action is also an important part of activism if you’re someone who posts about world events and politics online. Seek out what is happening in your community or things you can do from afar to have a positive impact!
Remember, self-care isn’t selfish
Taking care of your health and wellbeing isn’t selfish - it’s essential for you to show up in the world as the best version of yourself, as well as to stay healthy and avoid burnout or long-term mental health difficulties.
Whatever self-care looks like for you, make time for it! Cook yourself meals you love, dine out at your favourite restaurant, read a few pages of a great book each day, get your hair done, find an exercise you love, see your friends and family, play with your pets… After all, the news will still be there if you want to check it after.
How do YOU find balance when it comes to staying informed with world news and creating boundaries for your mental health? Let us know in the comments!
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.