Coping with Stress Caused by Watching the U.S. Capitol Riot

Overwhelmed by images of the mob? Here are 6 proven stress-reducing tips.

Posted Jan 06, 2021

Photo by Kyle Mills on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Kyle Mills on Unsplash

Unlawful riots broke out yesterday causing havoc, injuries, conflict, and damage in the United States Capitol. At least three people have been reported killed. Frightening images of angry and even armed people storming the nation’s capital have flooded our social media feeds and news. And though the Capitol has been secured, many have been left feeling anxious and overwhelmed by these events. Our nation’s heightened political divisiveness is unlikely to subside anytime soon, so care for yourself and those around you by prioritizing your emotional health and well-being by using these helpful coping tips.

Take a Break From Social Media. Over the last few months, many of our friends and family have taken to social media to share their political opinions. And for their own well-being, a number of people I know have chosen to “unfriend,” “block,” or “pause” seeing the offensive feeds that trigger emotional upset. This is a critical act of self-care. After today’s riot, consider either taking a break from social media altogether, or disallowing those whose vitriol upsets you to have access to your mental and emotional space. While breaking from social media can trigger “fear of missing out” (FOMO), you likely won’t miss much of consequence.

Limit Your News Consumption. Limit your consumption of daily news to stay emotionally healthy. It’s okay to be informed and to follow news stories, but make sure you are getting your news from reliable sources. But be aware that too much media exposure can increase distress. Seeing repeated images that remind you of what happened can trigger strong negative emotional reactions. Maybe you have some lingering unanswered questions and are hoping the news will help you fill in the gaps. You may be better off talking with a close friend or others close to what happened rather than trying to find closure in the news. In addition to hopefully getting more information, you’ll also be getting that ever-so-important social support.

Practice Relaxation Methods. While relaxation techniques can be helpful, in a few people they can sometimes increase distress at first. This can happen when you focus attention on disturbing physical sensations and you reduce contact with the outside world. Most often, continuing with relaxation in small amounts that you can handle will help reduce negative reactions. You may want to try mixing relaxation in with music, walking, or other activities like:

  • muscle relaxation exercises
  • breathing exercises
  • meditation
  • stretching
  • listening to quiet music
  • spending time in nature

Practice Mindfulness. Mindfulness involves paying attention to and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and sensations. Practicing mindfulness might help you cope with stress or difficult emotions. Mindfulness is a way of thinking and focusing that can help you become more aware of your present experiences. Practicing mindfulness can be as simple as noticing the taste of a mint on your tongue. There are some things you might do every day without even thinking about them, like brushing your teeth in the morning. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the feelings and sensations of these experiences. For example, focusing on the inhale and exhale of your breathing is one way to concentrate on the present moment. Mindfulness involves allowing your thoughts and feelings to pass without either clinging to them or pushing them away. You just let them take their natural course. While practicing mindfulness, you may become distracted by your thoughts and that is okay. The process is about being willing to notice where your thoughts take you, and then bringing your attention back to the present.

Get Adequate Rest, Exercise, and Nutrition. In every season and situation, three physical practices support good mental health: getting adequate rest, exercise, and nutrition. Staying up past midnight because you’re glued to the news? Turn off the screen at 10 and read something you enjoy before bedtime. While it can be healthy to engage in making a difference, don’t neglect getting the exercise your body needs. And while drive-through or takeout can always seem a bit easier than masking up to go to the grocery store, find a way to ensure that your body is getting the balanced nutrition it needs during this stressful season.

Get Professional Help if Needed. Here are a few signs that you would benefit from additional professional support: You can’t shake the distressful thoughts and emotions caused by the riot. The distress starts to interfere with your everyday life. You notice others are encouraging you to seek professional help. If you find yourself thinking about harming yourself or someone else, then call a mental health professional or 911 right away.