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Are You Suffering From News Exposure Stress Syndrome?

Staying sane in stressful times.

Pixabay image by mohamed_hassan
Source: Pixabay image by mohamed_hassan

It’s easy to feel depressed when reading one troubling story after another. According to an online survey taken about a year ago by the American Psychological Association (APA), 57 percent of Americans say that the current political climate is a very or somewhat significant source of stress. How do we keep our balance amidst fierce social and political winds?

We want to know what’s going on in our country and in the world, but we don’t want to become debilitated by it. So what to do? We’re each challenged to find our own unique way forward. Consider whether these survival strategies have any resonance for you.

Limiting Exposure

Personally speaking, I go through periods of watching less or more news, depending on my time and my inner resources in that moment. I like to know the basics of what’s going on so that I don't get blindsided by some stunning development. I read news captions and selective articles that draw my attention. But everyone is different.

Chronic exposure to troubling events can release a stress response in our body that can have damaging long-term effects. Any perceived threat, such as a dog charging us or a horrendous news story can trigger an alarm that prompts our adrenal glands to flood our body with hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.

Our body is resilient enough to deal with passing stressors. But when the fight, flight, freeze mode is continually triggered, our stress response may get stuck in the “on” position. As described on the Mayo Clinic website, when our stress-response system is continually activated, cortisol and other stress hormones can interfere with other bodily processes, increasing the risk of heart disease, sleep problems, memory impairment, digestive problems, anxiety, and depression.

We each need to get a felt sense for what we can handle without feeling overwhelmed or traumatize, and weigh the risk of over-exposure with the risk of remaining ignorant. The news media cranks out a dizzying amount of news every day. One part of self-care is to know our boundaries in relation to how much we can expose our psyches to without feeling paralyzed or besieged.

Some very sensitive people seek protection by exposing themselves to very little news, if any. Others deal with their sensitivity to danger by being fixated on the news as a way to manage their anxiety. Others expose themselves to just enough news to stay informed so they can vote wisely, sign petitions, or donate money, but without being glued to the TV or computer screen, like a moth being drawn to a flame. Some people may find the news entertaining or interesting rather than distressing.

Self-Care Practices

In today’s turbulent times self-care is especially important. Meditation and mindfulness practices can be one way to regulate our nervous system. Physical activity can help release stress from our body. I find yoga and exercise to be especially helpful, along with having a decent diet. Whatever resources help you discharge stress and maintain some inner balance, such as art, music, or nature walks (whether alone or with a friend), can be revitalizing.

Most of us have busy lives and are over-extended, so taking care of ourselves is easier said than done. We need to use our creativity to design a life that includes activities or "down time" that replenish us. We need to do our best without stressing out about it or over-thinking it.

Emotional Support

You may be comforted to realize that many people feel the same powerlessness, anxiety, or stress about our current political situation that you may be experiencing. Rather than pathologize these feelings, you might simply care enough to be deeply affected by current events.

Finding friends or a support group where you can share your feelings and concerns may help you feel that you are not alone. Talking with a therapist about your fears and feelings can also be helpful, especially if you’re not sleeping or functioning well due to depression or anxiety.

We can offer emotional support to ourselves by finding a way to be gentle with our feelings without concluding that something is wrong with us. A process such as Gendlin’s Focusing can be one helpful way to develop some spaciousness around our feelings so that we’re not overwhelmed by them.

Contributing to Our World

One way to feel less powerless is to find some small way to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. We have little control over what happens to us, but more control over how we relate to what happens. Perhaps you are already contributing to society through your work or simply by being a kind and helpful person. Or maybe joining causes that can make a difference will help you feel more empowered. Small acts of kindness can have rippling effects and might help you feel better.

Sometimes an individual — or a society — needs to hit bottom before finding their way forward. Hopefully there won’t be too many more bottoms. Whether there are or not, it may help to remember that the human spirit is resilient and that we’re in this together.

Take some deep breathes, remember who you are (your beauty and goodness), take time to be with like-hearted people, live in the moment as best you can, and allow yourself to abide in meaningful moments of joy and connectedness with others.

© John Amodeo