What to do when the news is heavy

Between last week’s devastating earthquake that killed more than 41,000 people in Turkey and Syria, this Monday’s shooting at Michigan State University that claimed the lives of three students and injured five more, the train derailment in East Palatine, Ohio that released toxic chemicals and now poses great health and environmental risks to community members for years to come, the restraumatizing release of yet another video depicting someone’s life being taken far too soon, and so many other news stories heard (or not) around the world, it has been quite a dark news cycle in the last two weeks alone. Of course it makes sense that mental health struggles are continuously on the rise when there’s nothing on the news but the blues. For an empath like me who wants to be informed, I sometimes find myself oscilating between two worlds: being buried underneath the weight of the pain and suffering or being numb to it. The reality is that neither is helpful, so how do we find balance between understanding the world around us, doing something to help, and not being overwhelmed by it all?

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’

Fred Rogers

I grew up in the Fred Rogers generation, so in times of sorrow, I find his sage advice of looking for the helpers comforting, but it’s one approach and one that isn’t always easy to do. Here are a few of my favorite things to do when the weight of the world feels too heavy to carry.

Unplug or limit your news consumption

Disconnect from social media and those 24-hour news channels. Take a break from or limit how much news you are consuming. Try to reduce scrolling to a certain time of day, try not to watch things that can be traumatizing, and be mindful of sources.

Acknowledge that your emotions are real

Whatever complicated emotions are stirred up for you, know that your feelings are valid! Feel the sadness, confusion, anger, disappointment, guilt, hope, hopelessness, etc, but try your best not to be overhwelmed by those emotions. How do you do that?

Practice emotion regulation

As a therapist, I oftentimes spend most of my sessions teaching my patients (and their parents) how to regulate their emotions. First, it’s important to remember that we CANNOT control or change our emotions. If we could snap our fingers and not feel any uncomfortable emotion, I’m sure we would, but obviously that’s not the reality. What we can do, however, is control what we do and how we respond in order to manage what we experience. Practicing grounding techniques (such as deep breathing and 5-4-3-2-1 senses), doing things you enjoy, watching a comforting show or listening to encouraging music, surrounding yourself with good people, journaling or talking to trusted individuals, staying hydrated, and moving your body are some of my favorite ways to practice self-care.

Look for the helpers

When we look for those who are doing good work and helping others as best as they can, it can offer up a sense of hope in the midst of unprecendented, distressing, and chaotic times. When we see people working hard to make a positive difference, it reminds us that there is something worth fighting for, so look for those helpers, both great and small.

Be a helper

And once you’ve checked in with yourself and established a good self-care routine, see if you have the capacity or desire to not only look for the helpers, but also to become one. Start small with causes of interest: make a donation, write a letter or email of support, or call your local or national leader. Eventually you can become an organizer, take to the streets, volunteer, and lend a helping hand. Consider what is realistic, feasible, and sustainable for you. Whatever that looks like, get involved, speak out, and stand up.

I know there’s so much going on in the world, and I bet sometimes it feels so incredibly overwhelming. With every news report and social media post that sparks an array of feelings, I hope you are taking the time to both acknowledge your emotions and feel them deeply and also care for yourself in whatever way is most effective and beneficial for you so that you can be the positive change this world so desparately needs.

What do you do when the news is dark and the world feels so heavy? How do you take care of yourself and find hope when things feel hopeless? Comment below!

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