Things can and have gotten pretty ugly in the world and the news, of course, is all over their constant reporting of this. It’s impossible to escape from. With the advent of the 24 hour news cycle and the growth of the internet, there is a plethora of sites and resources and information that is begging for our attention. Even as someone who does not consume much news or media, I cannot help but hear what is going on with the global pandemic and political situation in the United States because: a) it’s everywhere and b) it’s my job as a world citizen to stay aware and informed. While it’s helpful to be informed, as a mental health provider, I also see the harm that media, especially too much media, can have. Many of my clients struggle with Addiction and compulsiveness with their behaviour so having boundaries can be difficult, but it is worth trying.
How does media harm mental health? From my experience it can contribute to the following symptoms:
- Anxiety, increased fear
- Anger, rage, frustration
- Feelings of helplessness
How do we prevent these harmful symptoms and outcomes? It is not a realistic answer to say “no news” as this would not be helpful or realistic for people. We need to have some fundamental understanding of what is happening around us so, instead, let’s look at some other tools that take more of a ‘harm reduction’ approach.
Have boundaries with your exposure. Consume media at certain times of the day and for limited time periods. There is only so much you will learn if you continue to read and watch. The longer you watch, the more at risk you will be of falling into the pool of misinformation that exists out there and getting caught in that rabbit hole, which can further generate fear and discomfort for people.
Limit (and focus) your discussions with others. It may seem like an obvious topic of conversation since there’s big news items happening, but the more news gets talked about, the more isolated people feel in their relationships. These conversations can become more focused on entrenchment in one’s beliefs and values and trying to convince others of their perspective then they are about openness and dialogue. Checking in on where people are at and how they’re feeling about everything that is happening is far more personal and effective then talking about the headlines.
Self-care. Do not forget to take care of yourself. Use whatever tools are at your disposal and within your comfort zone to look after yourself. Your life cannot and does not stop because of what’s happening in the world. You still need to maintain physical, emotional, and relational health. In fact, when times are tough, we need this even more then when things are okay.
Process your thoughts and feelings. Take time to personalize your experience with media. Meaning, don’t just consume it and take on other people’s opinions and thoughts. Take time to write, reflect, and perhaps have limited discussions with others to help you sort out your thoughts and feelings about what is happening. This helps improve our relationship with self and a sense of agency. While we might not be able to change anything, we can have an informed perspective and solidify our beliefs and values.
I have some additional tips and strategies on this topic on my YouTube channel. Please check it out for some additional support.
It is also important to remember that we are all in this together. You are never alone. It is okay to be upset or scared or impacted by what is going on, even if it does not touch on your life directly. Remember to keep your feet in your own life, but use processing tools like talking, writing, and reflecting to help support you during these times.
Wishing you all a path of safety, health, and wellness.
By Paige Abbott
Paige is a Registered Psychologist in Calgary, AB and specializes in Addiction, Mental Health, and Relationships. She has a solo private practice and, in her free time, can be found with her partner and daughter playing, spending time outside and moving her body, doing projects around her home, reading, journaling, meditating, and working to be the healthiest version of herself that she can be. She challenges and invites people to do the same.