Seeking to stay on top of current events such as watching the news about the war in Ukraine might seem like the right move. But because there is so much uncertainty in the world right now, watching or reading the news nonstop can make our stress and anxiety worse, which can be paralyzing.
According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, checking the news or social media may feel comforting at the moment, but the effect is short-lived.
“Due to near-constant access to the news 24/7, it can be challenging to moderate our consumption, particularly when there are critical, important, major world events taking place that the media is covering,” said Dr. Amanda Spray, clinical associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and the director of the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Center at NYU Langone Health.
“When news is consumed in extremes, it can be detrimental to one’s mental health,” Spray added.
For example, she says, if someone is exposed to the atrocities of war repeatedly via the media, it can trigger existing mental health diagnoses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“The recent war can be perceived as more needless suffering and death after more than 2 years of needless death and loss due to the pandemic,” Spray said. “Even prior to the war, there has been a sense of collective distress without much collective joy or ‘wins’ experienced recently.”
Spray also noted that the news might lead some people to feel hopeless.
“The pandemic is still very much present, with seemingly no end in sight, and causes people to approach their hopefulness with some degree of hesitancy,” Spray said. “People are looking for more indicators that there is much to be hopeful for, and this war is instead leading some to feel increasingly hopeless.”
Symptoms of stress vary, but signs include
If you have been experiencing any of these symptoms, it could be a sign that you are stressed. You may also experience digestive issues, appetite changes, sweating, or a rapid heartbeat.
Despite the stressful events, taking care of yourself should be a priority, experts say. The most important thing you can do is remember what you can control. Taking care of yourself can be the first step to feeling better overall.
One of the ways we can do that is to cut the stress off at the source — turn off the news.
“It is crucially important to engage in self-awareness and check-in with yourself regarding how much news you are currently consuming, how repetitive it is versus presenting new information, and the impact it is having on your mental health,” said Spray.
Ask yourself how your mood is at various points during the day, and see if you are still doing the things that bring you joy.
“A helpful strategy to improve feelings of hopelessness is to allow yourself to experience these feelings, connect these feelings to your values, and moving toward values-aligned action,” Spray said.
Finding an activity that makes you feel like you are doing something about it can help you feel less powerless. For example, some individuals find that volunteering for an organization that helps support refugees, or an advocacy group can help them with feelings of hopelessness around the war.
“It is important to talk about the distress you are experiencing with others,” she added. “Too often, we sit alone with discomfort because we worry about burdening others. However, in these cases, it is very likely we are experiencing the same distress and would welcome a chance to share with someone else.”