Coping with the news
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many people may be feeling overwhelmed with anxiety and stress – and the (often negative) stories in the news aren’t helping.
“Watching the news can be a distressing and depressing experience that can cause unnecessary anxiety, especially in a turbulent time like we are experiencing with COVID,” says Dr. Kasey Nichols NMD, medical contributor at RAVEReviews.org. “I have frequently encountered patients in my practice who have experienced insomnia and anxiety that can be directly attributed to them watching the news.”
So how can we manage our media consumption in a way that doesn’t make our stress levels skyrocket, while also staying informed about what’s going on in the world? Here’s some advice.
“Inject as many coping tools for anxiety, stress [and] depression as you can,” says Dr. Gail Saltz, associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine and host of the Personology podcast from iHeart Media.
Structure your day
These coping tools include creating structure for your day, she says. “There is comfort in routine. Have a wake-up and bedtime, mealtimes, work times, play time, socialize-with-others time.”
Saltz adds that regular bedtimes and wake-up times will also help maintain a good sleep schedule, which is important for mental health.
Saltz says exercise can also help decrease anxiety and improve mood. She recommends 30 minutes of aerobic exercise four to five times a week. Saltz also cautions against increasing your alcohol intake and advises eating a healthy diet.
Another coping tool Saltz recommends is practising mindfulness, which you can do in a variety of ways. Deep breathing a few times a day is one method; muscle relaxation exercises is another. If you’re interested in trying out meditation, you can check out the Headspace section of the WW app.
Another way to practise mindfulness is through journaling.
“If you’re experiencing distressing and unsettling feelings and thoughts surrounding a story you’ve heard on the news, try taking the time to write down what you’re feeling,” says Nichols. “Journaling allows people an outlet to talk about how they are feeling and release pent up anxiety and emotions. This exercise is particularly useful at night if you have difficulty falling and staying asleep due to racing thoughts.”
Limit your news consumption
“Too much news will increase anxiety,” says Saltz. “I advise removing phone news alerts, which make you constantly anxious with little actual needed information. Check in once or twice a day to a trusted news source to know what you need to know and otherwise, avoid sitting in front of the news.”
Nichols suggests limiting your news consumption even more: Set aside about 10 minutes in the early afternoon – that’s it. “You want to check the news in the early afternoon rather than the mornings or at night so that you don’t spend the day obsessively thinking about what you learned in the morning, and you don’t have difficulty falling and staying asleep at night,” he says.
Think critically about the news
“The news is full of anxiety-provoking and depressing stories that can have you seeing the world as lacking colour and vibrancy,” says Nichols. “It’s important to evaluate the news content to gauge how the new piece of information directly impacts your life. What you’ll find is that many news events don’t have a direct impact on your life. Armed with this analysis, you’ll be able to have some measure of control over your emotions and feelings.”
He also recommends going directly to the experts, as opposed to only the media, for information to gain a ‘more well-rounded perspective.’
During this stressful time, Saltz also recommends maintaining social connections with your friends and family. “It’s important to have meaningful conversations with people you care about and stay connected.”
Get mental health help
You may also find it helpful to talk to a professional about the mental health concerns you may have.
“There are tons of ways to access mental health care now – everyone is doing telemedicine,” Saltz says. “They range from a referral from your hospital or internist to … going to apps (much lower cost treatment) like Talkspace and Be Well.”
For a number of mental health resources across Canada, click here.