How to Protect Your Mental Health When the News Cycle Is Heavy
Big feelings are swirling on the internet right now. The escalating attacks between Hamas and Israel have taken center stage on news sites and crowded social media feeds with too many takes to count. If the mere act of unlocking your phone and reading your news feed starts to invoke feelings of dread, helplessness, and — yes — grief, creating boundaries from the internet may be just what you need to stay informed without falling into a digital black hole.
"We hear from thousands of people every day who are overwhelmed by the news," Natalia Dayan, LMSW, a mental health professional with Crisis Text Line, tells POPSUGAR. "In our digital age, people are bombarded with information from a variety of sources, which can lead to information overload."
Staying informed is of course an important part of being an engaged citizen, but spending too much time glued to our news alerts can cause a tsunami of complex emotions. "Our thoughts about the content of the news might outweigh our internal capacity to initiate healthy coping [strategies] for what we are seeing and hearing," says licensed clinical psychologist Nina Polyné, PsyD.
So, how do you care for yourself in a stressful news cycle, particularly when the events have a deeply personal impact on you? "It's essential for individuals to recognize when they're feeling overwhelmed and take steps to manage these emotions. What's most important for people to know is that their feelings are valid, and they don't have to ignore them or feel alone," Dayan says.
Ahead, find expert-backed tips to help you protect your mental health during a heavy news cycle while still remaining a present, informed global citizen.
1. Check In With Your Emotions
When tragedy strikes (whether it's near or far away), it's OK to feel your feelings. "Allow yourself to feel emotions. They're normal," says psychologist Ashley Olivine, PhD. "As humans, we are supposed to feel sad when we learn about sad events. Take some time to process any emotions that may come up." Bottling up our emotions may lead to more stress later on, so if you feel yourself tearing up, let it out.
Dr. Polyné recommends putting down your phone and going for a short walk, meditating, or taking a bath. As you walk, meditate, or sink into the hot water, ask yourself: "What am I feeling?"
"Identify exactly how you are feeling, and self-validate," she says. "Once you have some idea about how you are feeling about the news, now, you can make clear decisions about what you want to specifically do about it."
2. Be Selective With the News Sources You Follow
NPR, The New York Times, CNN — chances are you have way too many cooks in the kitchen (journalists in the newsroom) when it comes to consuming your daily dose of headlines. That's why mental health educator Minaa B, LMSW, recommends limiting the number of news sources you follow. "That might look like muting other journalistic accounts and also muting accounts from average people who share their opinions on a topic but aren't necessarily journalists," she says.
It goes without saying, but hey, we'll say it anyway! The news sources that you choose should be ones that are grounded in facts and are as unbiased as possible. You can also use a fact-checking resource like PolitiFact to make sure the news you're reading is accurate.
"Some news outlets play up the fear factor more than others and add a lot of opinion and fear-based speculation," Dr. Olivine says. "Try to stick with news outlets that portray more facts than worst-case-scenario types of stories. This is a way to stay informed with a lower risk of negative effects."
3. Set Specific Time Constraints About When (and How Long) You Will Read the News
Setting intentional time constraints for your time on news sites and social media may also be helpful during this time. "Limiting yourself to a certain time of day and amount of time to search for new updates could be helpful," says Dr. Polyné. She adds that you should check in with yourself before hitting the CNN homepage. Are you already feeling stressed? Angry? Distracted? If so, then now might not be the moment to tune in.
If you start to notice that even the tiniest bit of news sends you into a tailspin, a longer break may be in order. Stepping away from updates for a week or two may help you gain some much-needed clarity. "This is important for two main reasons," says Dr. Olivine. "First, it allows you some time to recover before being exposed to more, preventing a buildup of stress. Second, it allows the story some time to drop some of the initial worst-case-scenario fears of the future as more facts become available."
4. Talk to Friends, Family, or a Mental Health Professional
Scrolling and scrolling (and scrolling) can make you feel incredibly isolated — but remember, the people around you are having a similar experience. Maybe you just need to sit across from someone who's working through the same emotions.
"Humans are not meant to face life alone. Friends and family can help to relieve stress, decrease that feeling of overwhelm, and sometimes even jump in with practical support such as chores or caring for children so parents can focus on themselves," says Dr. Olivine. Therapists will be able to provide mental health techniques tailored to you and can even help you develop a larger strategy for living alongside the always-on news cycle.
"You can also Text HOME to 741741 to reach a volunteer Crisis Counselor. We're here for you, 24/7," says Dayan.
5. Activate in a Way That Feels Authentic to You
If you feel called to take action (it's worth saying: you don't need to post on social media) remember that activism has many different faces. Minaa points out that some people will be at the frontlines of the movement, fighting each day for an equitable future — but that's not the only way to activate.
"Activism may look like taking the time to learn on your own so that you know what it is that's happening in the world right now before you can take steps to change it," says Minaa. It may also look like educating the people around you about complex political issues in a way that is fact-first, or donating to a charity, she adds.
"I really encourage people to reframe how they think about what it means to be an activist because we are all called to change in different ways," says Minaa. "We are all going to have different roles." Just remember: If you don't take a moment for yourself, you may never have the energy you need to step into your role.