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Are Negative Headlines Adding Stress to Your Work Life?

Here's how to thrive despite all the doom and gloom.

Key points

  • Negative news headlines about world and domestic events can worsen stress at an already tough job.
  • Many studies show the impact of these macro events on employee anxiety, including job fears.
  • One can take key steps to mitigate this dynamic, including how one prioritizes the information and manages it.
  • If the information overload is affecting work relationships, use emotional intelligence to counter it.
Gromik/Adobe Stock
Source: Gromik/Adobe Stock

Geopolitical instability, nuclear threats, political tensions in an election year, inflation, economic uncertainty, U.S. border issues… it’s a wonder anyone can concentrate at work, not to mention keep regular office stress at bay. If the endless flow of alarming headlines is exacerbating an already challenging job—especially relationships with your boss and coworkers—take heart. There are positive steps you can take.

First, you can be assured you’re not alone in this environment:

In a 2024 report, Gartner, Inc. said that “Conflicts between employees are poised to be at an all-time high in 2024 due to geopolitical crises, labor strikes, climate change, pushback to DEI efforts, and upcoming elections for half of the globe.”

A 2023 Brightplan survey reveals that a whopping 92 percent of employees are stressed about their finances because of economic uncertainty.

In a recent study conducted by MyPerfectResume, 85 percent of employees are worried they will lose their jobs.

According to a 2023 Gallup poll, only 21 percent of employees strongly agree that they trust corporate leadership.

Here are some ideas on how to cope and thrive in this environment:

Don’t let the news consume you.

This can be easier said than done. Just when you thought things couldn’t be worse during COVID, now global threats and political polarization seem at historic highs.

No one should live under a rock, but tracking “breaking” news alerts more than once a day can be enough to distract or irritate even the most conscientious. It can be tough to transition from a negative news story at 1:25 p.m. to a cheery demeanor on a 1:30 p.m. Zoom call. Constant exposure to distressing headlines will naturally affect your emotions (and work product). Consider doing a cursory review of the news before work or during your lunch break and then delving into it further after office hours.

Realize what is beyond your control.

There are plenty of ways to get involved civically, politically, and socially with today’s looming issues. You may not be able to single-handedly stop nuclear proliferation or inflation. But for many, taking action in some form can be therapeutic—and help the world at large, even in a small way.

That said, consider that deciding not to be overwhelmed by external events is an action in itself. Shifting your daily habits is at least worth an experiment to determine which approach best suits you.

Find ways to limit your distractions, including social media.

If you’re like many, each time you pick up your cellphone, there’s a constant flow of seemingly irresistible information instantly accessible. Between multiple social media apps and news alerts—on top of personal texts, emails, and voicemails—you can easily get derailed. They can lead you right into a virtual vacuum of everything non-work. It’s a feeling that if you’re out of the information loop, all matters will get worse.

Try to schedule a time during the day to check the essentials and stick to it. Use a daily, visible reminder that you’ll see several times a day­ to stay on track. Prioritize what you absolutely must review. Let people in your inner circle know when you check your phone, and make sure you set boundaries. This is critical for your peace of mind.

If you must check, first try to decompress.

When so much information is so readily available, it’s hard to pass up. If this is the case and you’re already working your way toward better time management, consider building in a transition time to clear your head. Look at the big picture of all the positives in your life. Take a deep breath and try a quiet, meditative state for a few minutes. This can put the world’s troubles, financial uncertainty, and job worries all in perspective. It will also help ensure that you are at your best with your boss and colleagues.

In that same vein, while it’s natural to want to commiserate with team members about the latest news headline, that can be a slippery slope. In moderation, it may be fine, especially with those you know and trust at work. Political discussions can easily stir emotions, and staying neutral can be the best option. It may be preferable to have a close personal friend with whom you can commiserate after work or during your lunch hour.

Know thyself.

You know yourself best. If you feel that worries about the economy or news events are spilling over into the relationship with your manager or team members, try deploying your best emotional intelligence to compensate. Use an extra blanket of diplomacy before firing off a fiery email or scheduling a sensitive conversation. If you work remotely, remember that being physically behind a computer or phone doesn’t change the impact of what you say.

Manage up.

Keep in mind that others in your office may be feeling the same anxieties, and that includes your boss. Being a valued employee often means being the “voice of reason” in difficult times, particularly with a challenging manager. If you’re concerned about job security, this is an opportune time to stay calm and model that for others. Make sure you’re minimizing the level of conflict at work in the first place, as stress in the office can also magnify negative headlines—it’s a two-way street. Open, regular communications with your boss and coworkers can head off a host of unnecessary miscommunications and animosity.

It’s helpful to remember in times like these that you have the ultimate control to determine exactly how external events will affect you—and your level of happiness.

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