How to protect your mental health when reading the news

When faced with a global pandemic, being optimistic and hopeful can be considered insensitive or naive. It is neither. In fact, it is a powerful mental state that helps us constructively engage with a negative reality and it gives us the necessary courage to persist in the face of problems.

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As the news floods in with heavy coverage of collapse, medical shortages, death tolls and failures, our worried minds are often compelled to busy themselves with endless concern. There is no doubt that it is important to understand the huge medical, economic and social challenges that COVID-19 presents but we should resist the temptation to indulge in the sensational detail of every terrible story that follows in its wake.

This can be difficult in practice because our survival instinct is immediately drawn to this negative information in an effort to keep us safe; it wants to know about the threat we are facing so we are able to protect ourselves. However, our survival instinct does not operate well when faced with the sheer volume of negative information we continuously have access to at the tip of a finger.

As a result, it can become overstimulated and can make us feel anxious, pessimistic, panicked and depressed. If we tune in continuously, these feelings then linger even after we switch off from the news because we become so well-rehearsed at feeling them.

Think of it like making a mark on a piece of paper, at first, the mark might be so faint that it may not even be noticeable, but if you keep going over the mark again and again, even with the slightest of pressure, that mark will get more defined and more permanent. This helps explain why our feelings of worry grow stronger and they last for longer. But if we relieve ourselves of this pressure to fuel our minds with the latest scare, we can reduce this feeling of anxiety. This is not to say that we have to ignore the problems, but we can certainly reduce our consumption significantly and still remain informed.

Reducing our consumption of negative news is not the only strategy that can be deployed to protect our mental health at this time, we can also deliberately expose ourselves to solutions. We can tune into news that investigates what measures to contain the virus are working, and why, so that we can learn how best to deal with it.

As well as reducing our anxiety, reading about solutions has been shown to improve our mood in the short term and positively shift our mindset in the long term; again, it is like marking a piece of paper and these short term feelings transform into somthing more permanent when we practice them more often. Further benefits include a restored faith in humanity, improved social cohesion and increased levels of optimism, hope and resilience.

When faced with a global pandemic, being optimistic and hopeful can be considered insensitive or naive. It is neither. In fact, it is a powerful mental state that helps us constructively engage with a negative reality and it gives us the necessary courage to persist in the face of problems.

This sentiment mirrors an often-told story, supposedly from Cherokee folklore, about a Cherokee elder who is teaching his grandson about life.

The elder said to the young boy, “A fight is going on inside me,”. It’s a terrible fight between two wolves. One is evil — he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, lies, false pride, and ego. The other is good — he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, and compassion. The same fight is going on inside you — and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson listens to his elder and gives his words some thought before asking, “Which wolf will win?”

The older Cherokee replies, “The one you feed.”

Remember: there is reason to feel empowered during this crisis — the threat we face can be detected and, if managed well, slowed down and even contained. As individuals, we can minimize the risk to ourselves and others by taking basic precautions. Most of the reported cases are mild enough to recover from without hospitalization. Meanwhile, scientists are cooperating globally, and vaccine prototypes with antiviral trials are being developed. 

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Jodie Jackson

Constructive Journalism, Positive psychology, Yoga, Meditation, Coaching

I believe that we all have an exciting potential to contribute to our own wellbeing as well as others around us. With a few simple tips and know how, we can have greater mastery over the direction of our lives and take greater pleasure in the adventure. Join me on this journey as I share with you the things that I am thinking, writing, reading and watching and welcome your thoughts too!

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