We’re all actually programmed to survive rather than to be happy and our default tendency is therefore to be problem-focused. With the vast majority of news being “bad” news and potentially instant access to all these stories across the world, you can see why today’s media can be such a source of distress for many. It can lead to someone obsessively scanning social media and websites for bad news, or “doomscrolling” as it’s now known. Couple this with our vast imagination and memory and we can be left in a hyper-vigilant, worried, angry, or switched off state that profoundly adversely affects our mental, physical and emotional well-being. Here are some steps to help manage this anxiety.
Make a media inventory
We need to be aware that everything we see, hear, touch, taste and smell is affecting our thoughts, feelings, body and behaviours. Some people can scroll news without it being problematic, but if you are experiencing some degree of “bad news” related anxiety, it’s likely you’re going to need to reduce the amount of bad news you’re exposing yourself to. As a first step, make an inventory of the type of media you’re consuming so you can make more active choices around it.
Time for self-reflection
Regularly check-in with what you’re thinking and feeling in response to what you’re seeing and hearing in the media. To increase awareness of your internal experience, try to introduce some time in your day to pause and look inwards, without external distractions. Try to notice what dysregulates you. Many of us aren’t consciously aware of our thoughts and feelings from one moment to the next, so we might not even realise we’re distressed by the media until we’re overwhelmed.
‘Crowd out’ your anxiety
As well as your distress, also notice when you’re feeling relaxed, inspired or joyful. You can then hopefully identify some alternatives to doomscrolling to engage with. Try to think in terms of behaviours that are about connection, creativity and cultivation. Examples of these include mindfulness, getting outside in nature, creativity, singing and dancing. It’s important to be as physically active as possible, because, when your body feels good and safe, your thoughts will often align with these feelings too.
Also spend some time reflecting on who you are, your wants and needs and goals for the future, it will help you keep a more solid sense of self amidst the relentless external stimulation from news and social media.
Key importance of relationships with others
Anxiety tends to have the effect of disconnecting us from others in order to protect ourselves. It’s important you therefore find ways to connect to others, including friends, pets and the wider community where you can. You do need to make sure when speaking to others though that they are likely to help you soothe your anxiety.
If you’re feeling constantly overwhelmed and anxious, you can of course always think about speaking with a therapist. Therapy can help with all of the above, including reducing anxiety, building joy, and working towards your goals in life.
John-Paul Davies is a psychotherapist and spokesperson for the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP).
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