As the attack on Ukraine is ongoing, it’s difficult to escape terrible news; people are constantly dying, fleeing their country, and the aggressor isn’t likely to stop. This naturally raises many terrifying questions: what does the future has in store for us and are we safe? But while it’s important to be involved and care about what’s going on, you should also remember that being surrounded by this kind of information every day can negatively impact your mental health.
So how to keep the balance between staying informed and not letting your mental health decline at the same time?
In this article, you’ll find out why you might find it so hard to stop reading the news, why it’s important to take a break and how you can make sure your health doesn’t suffer.
Remember, prioritizing your wellbeing isn’t selfish.
Why Do We Find It So Difficult to Stop Following the News?
Have you ever heard of doomscrolling? It’s a term that describes a destructive tendency to scroll through negative headlines. You might open the news in the morning just to check what’s going on and soon find yourself reading through multiple articles on the same topic. The possible causes of doomscrolling include:
- Enjoying your life might make you feel guilty
Even if you aren’t a highly empathetic person, you might feel bad for continuing with your life and enjoying it knowing that people are dying and having their lives torn apart at the same time. You might think, what even is the point of working if there’s so much evil in the world? Or how can I sleep in peace while others can’t? This kind of perspective might make you more likely to compulsively follow the news as you might want to have at least a bit of taste of the terror people are experiencing abroad.
- You want to know what’s to come
It's only natural that you want to know what’s going on in the world, especially if it potentially means it makes you more prepared if things get worse. Uncertainty can be difficult to tolerate, and you might want to know the answers that can ease your anxiety: when will the war end? Am I safe? Should I be worried?
Scanning for danger is an evolutionary mechanism that can make us feel more in control and able to protect ourselves. However, it’s easy to get sucked in and struggle to step back when your mental health starts to suffer, especially since you won’t find the answers you’re looking for. On the contrary, reading the comments and seeing people speculate might bring up new questions and further add to your distress.
- You might find discord and turmoil comforting, in a way
Many people might turn to negative news because knowing that there are terrible things happening might be strangely comforting. It might make you think ‘My life is far from perfect but at least I’m safe’.
Read this Next: Why You Need To Do A Digital Detox
Why Should You Take a Break From News?
Stepping back and resisting to read the news is especially challenging now, knowing that the war between the two countries can turn into a global catastrophe. The impact on the economy can already be witnessed; the prices of gas and energy are rising, and thousands of people have lost their jobs. But what if you worry that your country could be invaded next? Is taking a break even a good idea?
The short answer is yes. Allowing yourself to be overwhelmed won’t be helpful. Here are the reasons you should take a break from reading the news:
- Feeling anxious won’t keep you any safer so limiting your news consumption can be a good way to protect your mental health
Our brains like preparing us for what’s to come by forcing us to think about it repeatedly. If you ever find yourself unable to sleep because you begin to worry about everything, that’s your survival mechanism kicking in. But no matter how often you think about this war and how many Reddit threads you read through, it won’t put a stop to what’s happening in the world right now and will only fuel your anxiety and stress.
- Not everything is lost yet
It would be naïve to assume everything will stay the same after the war has stopped but things can still unfold very differently. There’s a high chance that the ‘conflict’ won’t escalate and directly affect your safety. Is there really a benefit of worrying so much?
While it might be difficult to imagine right now and as tragic as the whole situation is, you still have a life to live and goals to achieve. If you let yourself scroll through the news every day, you might put yourself under chronic stress. And while the war might eventually end, you’ll be left with long-term mental health problems to deal with.
- News outlets like to exaggerate and sensationalize stories
Now, I’m not saying that what news report isn’t entirely true but remember that media loves a good shock value. Newspapers might deliberately choose titles that sound sensational and exaggerate what’s going on to attract more readers. If you don’t read the whole article, it’s easy to panic and jump to conclusions.
- It can have a negative impact on your mental health
And perhaps most importantly, allowing yourself to constantly consume negative information might increase your worry and impact your sleep. If you already suffer from depression or anxiety, you might also notice worsened symptoms and more frequent rumination.
Tips on Taking a Break from the News and Social Media
There’s nothing wrong with prioritizing your mental health. Just because you don’t check the news and social media every day, it doesn’t mean you’re being indifferent. If you notice that reading about the current situation is upsetting you and affecting your ability to sleep or work, it’s best to try to take a break. Here’s what you can do to protect your mental health:
- Find outlets that provide the most accurate information
Reading through multiple articles from different sources won’t do you any favors. If you want to be up to date with what’s going on but avoid becoming overwhelmed, choose one outlet that seems to provide the most straight to the point information and stick to it.
- Reduce how much time you spend online
In most people’s cases, full social media detox isn’t realistic. However, it’s also unrealistic not to come across news even without googling it so you should try to stay away from the Internet as much as possible. You can either gradually reduce the time you spend online or set a time limit in which you’re allowed to keep yourself up to date.
For example, you might let yourself scroll and search for information for an hour every day – you can set an alarm clock to make it easier to stop when the time’s up. Additionally, it’s important that you remember not to use your phone before bed because reading upsetting news can disrupt your sleep. Evening is also the time when many people experience heightened anxiety which makes them more vulnerable to compulsive scrolling so if that’s the case for you, you should stay away from the Internet at least two hours before you hit the sack.
3. Work on your mental health and overall wellness
Breaking a bad habit is a process that doesn’t happen overnight, but you can improve your lifestyle to keep your health in check in the meantime. You should make sure that you’re eating well, getting enough sleep, and including exercise in your daily routine.
Additionally, keep in touch with friends who can offer you support and help you take your mind off things. Similarly, prioritize self-care. Be extra compassionate to yourself in this difficult time and treat yourself to enjoyable activities. Whenever the news affects you, try to do something relaxing such as going for a walk or having a bath.
4. Allow yourself to process your emotions
Feeling angry, sad, scared, or being in disbelief is understandable now but turning to social media to deal with those emotions won’t be beneficial as it will only fuel them more. Instead, you should allow yourself to sit with negative feelings and learn to express them. Simply naming the emotions you’re experiencing can be helpful and bring awareness to your mental state.
Tell yourself that everything you’re feeling is normal and give yourself permission to grieve. Once you’ve become more in tune with how you feel, you can also make sure to check in with yourself before reading the news. If you notice that you’re already anxious, it’s best to wait until you’ve addressed it.
- Switch off notifications on your phone and tablet
Unless you’re waiting for an important message, now it’s time to keep your phone on silent. This way you won’t be tempted to go down the rabbit hole and check the news after you’ve unlocked the screen to read a text from your friend.
- Stop checking other people’s stories
While your Instagram feed might not be saturated with reports on the war (at least, depending on who you follow), a lot of people share relevant articles in their stories every day. It’s great that they keep people posted and share awareness but if your mental health is suffering, you should try to avoid checking the stories. Remind yourself that while you aren’t in control of what’s going on in the world, you’re in control of what information you expose yourself to.
- Keep a gratitude diary
One of the best ways to ground yourself in the present and redirect attention to something positive is by keeping a gratitude diary. Writing down what you’re grateful for can improve your mood and lower your stress. The more at peace you feel, the less likely you’ll be to compulsively check the news.
8. Don’t start your morning by reading the news
What you do in the morning can set the tone for the rest of the day and reading about atrocities won’t put you in a good mood. Leave reading the news for later and do something stress-relieving after you’ve woken up instead.
9. Control what you see online and limit your screen time
You can use browser extensions and apps to customize what information you can access. For example, some extensions allow you to block all media outlets, and there are apps you can download that restrict your use of social media.
10. Focus your energy elsewhere
Many people might feel reluctant to ditch following the news because it makes them feel like they’re turning their backs on the victims and refusing to acknowledge what’s going on. However, it’s possible to support the Ukrainian people and protect your mental health at the same time. A good way to contribute is to donate. There are a lot of organizations that are accepting financial donations online, but you can find out if you can donate supplies such as sanitary products or clothing somewhere in your area.
- Be kind to people no matter what
This is the time we should make extra effort to be as united as possible. As cheesy as the ‘kill them with kindness’ saying sounds, it’s a good idea to channel your emotions into something positive. You don’t necessarily have to focus on just helping refugees but simply try to show kindness to people around you; you can, for example, distract yourself by joining a local volunteering group or offer a helping hand when you notice that your friends or neighbours are struggling.
- And if you insist on checking the news, focus on how united people are
While negative news dominates, you can still find a light in a tunnel. What some people do for Ukrainian refugees is truly admirable and heart-warming; many either donate or offer their spare rooms. The volunteers work non-stop at the borders to make sure they can provide high-quality care to everyone who enters their country. Positive news might be trickier to find but they are there and show how people are able to come together in the face of adversity.
Hopefully, this guide has helped you make changes in your lifestyle necessary to maintain your wellbeing. Take care of yourself!
About the Contributor
Joanna Cakala is a multilingual writer based in the UK. Combining a degree in Psychology and passion for writing, she started her freelance journey penning articles on mental health.
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