Recently, it has felt like there is nothing good going on in the world. From national news of school shootings, families being ripped apart, and feeling like our country is constantly on the verge of war, to more local news about car wrecks or violent robberies, we're left feeling feeling some combination of overwhelmed, angry, scared, and unsettled.
It makes sense to want to bury your head under the covers and forget the world. Or maybe watch the news 24/7 to make sure you aren't missing something. You might feel paralyzed, hopeless, and unable to do anything. Or maybe you spend all of your time and energy calling representatives, trying to save everyone.
Both of these paths are likely to leave you feeling burnt out and overwhelmed. We often ignore the effect these national and local incidents have on us because we think they shouldn't be such a big deal if they didn't happen directly to us or anyone we know. But seeing violent images or hearing heartbreaking stories absolutely impacts us and our mental health and makes self-care incredibly important.
Here are some ways to stay involved with current events without overwhelming yourself.
1. Remember that you alone are not responsible for saving the world.
Sometimes we become so overwhelmed with bad news or politics, we freeze and spiral into a pit of guilt. We feel like we aren't doing enough and like anything we do won't matter anyway. And then sometimes we neglect our own needs and families. We get stuck on going to every rally or calling every senator every hour of the day. Rallies are great, phone calls are great, and voting is definitely important, but know your limits and what you are comfortable doing. Choose to spend your energy wisely. When we are intentional with our time, our actions (no matter how small) become more meaningful. We are able to fully engage. Taking action is an effective way to feel less hopeless, but you aren't going to save the world by yourself. Don't underestimate the effect seemingly smaller steps like voting or sharing a post on Facebook have.
2. Take space when you need to and limit the amount of news that you watch.
Take a break from that friend who only talks about all that's wrong with the world. It doesn't mean that you don't care about the issues; we all need to recharge. Take a break from those family members who you don't see eye to eye with about current events. It doesn't mean you don't love them. It is totally appropriate to tell someone you don't feel like discussing certain topics. For example, "Hey Uncle John, I feel a little overwhelmed talking about gun laws right now but would love to hear about your new job."
Turn off the news; it will still be there later. Try scheduling a specific time for catching up on current events. I make a conscious effort to not watch or read news after 8pm. Watch dog videos or play a mindless game on your phone. Watch a fun movie or TV show (just not The Handmaid's Tale like I've been doing...although excellent (so good!), not a great way to take a mental break). Take a walk outside and be in nature.
3. Educate yourself.
News sensationalizes things. Sometimes that's great because it gets us to pay attention to important issues. But frequently, we end up upset about things that might not be completely true. If you are feeling particularly overwhelmed or upset by something, spend some time researching to better understand it. If you have a better grasp of the problem, it makes it a lot easier to figure out what you can do, if anything, to help the situation. Or maybe you'll find out that what you saw on the news isn't actually as bad or serious as it seemed.
4. Let yourself laugh and enjoy things.
Sometimes we feel a sort of "survivor's guilt" when things are going okay for us but not other people. We feel like laughing or enjoying things isn't fair if someone is out there struggling. We feel like going out to eat isn't okay if someone else can't afford it. We feel guilty for having a nice home or bed to sleep in when we see videos of children sleeping in cages. You do not need to punish yourself. You are much less likely to burn out and more likely to have energy to provide help if you are well fed, rested, and happy. It's good to be aware of what is going on and it's good to acknowledge the uncomfortable feelings that come up when thinking of your privilege. However, you also need to make sure you feed your mind, body, and soul.
It's important not to underestimate the effect distressing national and local news has on your mental health. It's not selfish to take care of yourself; someone has to. And if you want to help or take action, self-care is a necessity.
A trained therapist is also a great place to get support. Click here to read more about anxiety therapy.