Horrific acts of violence seem to be on the rise; this July alone, our social media feeds have been full of gut-wrenching news. (And even if there hasn’t been a statistical increase, our exposure to violence through the media has grown significantly over the past year.) Reading or listening to the news leaves many of us feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable. We need to consciously avoid living in these moments too long or we run the risk of becoming depressed and overly anxious. It’s important instead that we work to channel our inner strength and resilience in order to stay in a positive mindset and continue living life (rather than fearing it). This can be extremely difficult at times, especially as tragedies seem to be occurring with greater frequency and are hitting closer to (and in) more of our local communities.
Psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz shares some valuable insights on how to cope with receiving negative news. She first optimistically points out that anxiety – to a point – is actually a good thing. “It enables awareness and proactive problem-solving and motivates us to take sensible steps in protecting ourselves and our loved ones.” However, we do need to keep our anxiety in check; Saltz goes on to warn that “the human mind tends to absorb threatening messages one by one, over and over, regardless of whether a danger is truly imminent.” Therefore, controlling how we take in and absorb negative and potentially traumatizing information is critical. Here are 3 of her suggestions:
1/ Stop Questioning. When fear first strikes, ask yourself once (and only once), “What can I do to solve this problem?” Then implement your plan as best you can. But if you can’t think of a plan or solution that is realistic, rational, and logical, move on. If worries like, “What can I do?” or “How can I fix this?” continue to flood your thoughts, pause and resist trying to answer them. Instead, let the questions sit there in your mind. Left alone long enough, the questions will lose their power, and your mind will stop asking them.
2/ Distract Yourself. Sometimes reminding yourself not to answer worrisome thoughts ends up magnifying them. If that happens, try the old distraction route: You can preoccupy your brain with relaxing activities, like taking a warm bath, listening to music or meditating. If these low-key methods don’t block out the anxiety, try something slightly more engaging, like playing a card game, catching up with a friend, doing yoga, or even a chore.
3/ Exercise + Mindfulness. Sign up for your favorite workout class or go for a run or bike ride; physical activity reduces stress and anxiety both in the moment and long-term. During your workouts, practice mindfulness. Tune into the physical movement your body is experiencing as well as your breathing. This way you’ll have a conscious train of thought that doesn’t involve worry.
Love is Action. As individuals, we are powerless to end the horrific acts of violence occurring around the world and in our immediate communities. However, by actively showing love and support for each other during these difficult times, we will grow stronger together. We need to actively be the change. The smallest act of kindness toward a friend, family member or a passerby on the street can have a significant impact on the world; imagine how much light and strength we could build by increasing our consciousness and care for others even just a little bit. It’s urgent. As the wise words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. remind us: “Darkness cannot drive our darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive our hate; only love can do that.”
* Song For This Moment: “Protection” by Massive Attack.
“How To Manage Your Anxiety Over the Never-ending Stream of Bad News”, article on Health.com
“Unexplained rise in violent crimes in the US this year”, article in Associated Press.
“Protecting Children from The Trauma of Gun Violence, Racism”, article from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“What Constant Exposure to Negative News Is Doing To Our Mental Health“, article in Huffington Post.
“Our World Isn’t Getting Worse: Our Information is Getting Better“, article in GeekWire.