How to Manage News-Induced Anxiety
Doomscrolling through our news feeds can leave us feeling hopeless, and yet many of us find it hard to stop
Psychologist Dr Audrey Tang offers some practical ways you can take action on the causes that matter to you
If you are feeling overwhelmed, you don't have to manage alone – find a therapist here
Why do we scroll incessantly through our news feeds even when it doesn't make us feel good? Doomscrolling can be seen as an almost morbid fascination with the negative. But there is some sense in it – information can be a very effective way to calm the mind. For example, when you have a problem and someone explains to you exactly what will happen next, even if the situation doesn't change, your feelings towards it may have less impact because you have a sense of knowledge and control. Doomscrolling at a basic level may be about gaining that sense of control.
We are also hard-wired towards paying more attention to a negative post. The negativity bias occurs because we often learn more from negative events, and we are also able to keep ourselves safer when we are aware of the dangers. Thus, we may be drawn more to read something negative in case we might learn something useful.
On the more positive side, negative emotion can also stir empathy which in turn boosts compassion – that in turn leads to action, and the feeling that we have done something can minimise anxiety. What we need to remain mindful of is knowing when we have ‘learned enough to act’ rather than have feelings of overwhelm make us switch off.
Practical ways we can support ourselves and others
1. Making donations
Recognised charities are places we can donate financially as well as meeting the needs of their appeals for food, medicine and other essentials but when it comes to donating please do be mindful:
- Contribute what you have been requested to contribute – there is no point bringing what is not needed because it can cause extra problems for the charity who then need to dispose of whatever is unwanted
- Contribute to known charities and causes – while there may be many local causes set up which are reputable, unfortunately criminals and fraudsters will also take advantage of people’s generosity
2. Use your voice
Use your social media platforms to raise awareness, join peace protests of solidarity, or write to your MP if you feel your constituency can be doing more as a whole.
3. Get involved as a business
Hotel chains are, for example, providing places for refugees to stay. If you as a business are doing something, reach out and collaborate with other businesses – it is a much more powerful movement when you stand together for the same cause rather than pockets of support. Remember – it’s not about ego, but about making a real impact.
And if it is appropriate to your field, be informed about the effect on the economy, or how the sanctions may affect others, or the impact of having your world turned upside down, and explore ways you might support and advise at later stages of the conflict.
4. Look after your own wellbeing
We are of no help to others if we are not functioning well ourselves – we owe it to what we can offer others, to look after ourselves.
Simple tips here include:
- Only read trusted news outlets (avoid doomscrolling, or perhaps take a break from social media)
- Set aside worry time – so that you don’t clog up your day with worry, write down what concerns you and set aside time to reflect and worry e.g. from 9-9.30pm
- Accept your feelings – we are still coming through a global pandemic. The feelings of sadness, frustration, anger, anxiety and other negativity can seem quite overwhelming, you do not need to pretend things are OK – it is very clear they are not. What can be helpful is to find a safe space and method to address and release that tension and distress. This can include professional intervention such as therapy or counselling, or as a start the point above – writing down your concerns and allowing yourself to sit with them and reflect on them.
5. Supporting anxious children
This is something people struggle with yet is hugely important because how we respond to crisis becomes an example for our children. It is important that we start equipping them with helpful strategies and tools rather than trying to overprotect them or leave them with unanswered questions that they may then frame a distorted narrative around.
It is certainly the case that with very young children who simply will not understand, then perhaps it is best not to force information onto them. With older children, sometimes avoiding their questions can worry them more so:
- Explain what is going on in easy accessible language
- Remember that talking helps you know what they are thinking and how they are thinking about it
- Validate their feelings, don’t use platitudes such as 'It’ll be fine', 'It’s not your concern'
- Give them a PRACTICAL way to help e.g. choosing what to donate, or helping with fundraising
- Reassure them that adults will do everything they can to keep them safe
Watch counsellor Natasha Wellfare's tips on talking to children about Ukraine
It is also important to remember that our own world is still turning, and we can and must still grow and make a positive impact within it. As such, through acceptance of our concerns and emotions, as well as taking effective action where we can, we at least create some space for ourselves (which passive worry would otherwise have crowded out) and with that space we can also continue doing what we need to do on our own path.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist, wellness expert and author of The Leaders Guide to Resilience