It is two years into a global pandemic and you look down at your smartphone and see the following news alert- “Russia invades Ukraine”. As the days progress, our news outlets, social media, and daily conversations have become centered on a traumatic conflict that is being continuously covered and even live streamed. You can feel yourself getting swept up in the fear, pain, and shock but just cannot seem to stop consuming more and more details.
Why is this? Why do we find ourselves glued to horrific scenes yet feeling our own stress increasing with each story?
“Headline Stress Disorder,” also referred to as “Headline Anxiety,” was coined by Steven Stosny, Ph.D, a Maryland therapist, in response to heightened stress brought on by “continual alerts from news sources, blogs, social media and alternative facts feel(ing) like missile explosions in a siege without end”1. Although headline stress disorder is not an actual clinical diagnosis, “research has shown that the sentiment of news articles can evoke emotional responses from readers on a daily basis with specific evidence for increased anxiety and depression in response to coverage”2.
There are ways to stay informed and remain empathetic while keeping ourselves in a relatively calm state. Here are some tips from the National Alliance on Mental Health to remember when placing boundaries around your news consumption:
- Be mindful of your news consumption by shortening the time you scroll through news.
- Limit your news to only one or two reliable sources.
- Practice acceptance and understand, the news will not answer all your questions.
- Learn about preventative and precautionary measures from reliable sources.
- Stay connected to friends and family.
- Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate.
- Make time to unwind and remind yourself that strong feelings will fade. Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories.
- Take social media breaks.
- Understand that it is normal to be somewhat concerned by this, but try to not let fear drive your anxiety to an unhealthy level.
For some, a feeling of helplessness may become overwhelming and one way to address this emotion is with action. There are reliable organizations you can donate to listed here. In addition to adjusting your own boundaries with news, the kiddos in your life may have questions and concerns, too. NPR Life Kit has an excellent podcast, “What to say to kids when the news is scary.” Remember, many tips that we can use to reassure our children can also be used as a comfort for us grown-ups, too.
1. Stosny, S. (2017, February 6). He once called it ‘election stress disorder.’ Now the therapist says we’re suffering from this. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2017/02/06/suffering-from-headline-stress-disorder-since-trumps-win-youre-definitely-not-alone/
2. Lekkas, D., Gyorda, J. A., Price, G. D., Wortzman, Z., & Jacobson, N. C. (2022). Using the covid-19 pandemic to assess the influence of news affect on online mental health-related search behavior across the united states: integrated sentiment analysis and the circumplex model of affect. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 24(1), 32731. https://doi.org/10.2196/32731
3. National Alliance on Mental Health Maryland. Ways To Avoid Headline Anxiety. http://namimd.org/coronavirus_resources/ways_to_avoid_headline_anxiety