As reports unfold about tragic or violent news events or disasters, we can find ourselves overwhelmed by stress.
It’s natural for us to feel stress. The body’s stress response actually works to help keep us safe. But too much stress can be damaging to our physical and mental health. If you’re living with a mental health condition, stress can also exacerbate existing symptoms.
The first step to managing news-related stress is to be aware of how you’re feeling and accept your feelings with kindness. It’s okay to be upset about tragic news. Pay close attention to how you’re responding to news and note when you’re feeling physically and/or mentally agitated. Then you can take steps to manage your stress.
Here are some suggestions for reducing news-related stress.
Limit news consumption. Doom-scrolling? Don’t! Set times during the day to check in, and don’t feel bad about checking out. Stick to one or two trusted sources.
Reduce social media scrolling. As with checking the news, set times during the day to check social media. Also consider reviewing your feeds. If you find you feel bad while scrolling on social media, ask yourself why. Unfollow or hide accounts that upset or disturb you.
Exercise. We can relieve tension simply by moving our bodies; regular exercise actually helps the body produce stress-relieving hormones. Choose physical activities that feel good so you’re more inclined to move, whether it’s walking, hiking, biking, dancing, practice yoga, shooting hoops or playing pickleball.
Eat right and stay hydrated. Maintaining a healthy diet of unprocessed foods, including whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, is good for our bodies and minds. Eating well and staying hydrated (drink more water!) can also help stabilize our mood. Using alcohol and recreational drugs can worsen stress (you’re truly better off drinking herbal tea).
Practice mindfulness. If you don’t already practice mindfulness or meditation, this is a good time to start. Studies show mindfulness decreases anxiety and emotional reactivity. If you are new to mindfulness, consider apps from Calm, Insight Timer, Headspace (free for Los Angeles County residents), and UCLA Mindful app, which offer short, guided mediations that are great for beginners.
Learn grounding and breathing exercises. Breathing exercises calm the nervous system. Start with box breathing: Breathe in through the nose, slowly counting to four; gently hold your breath for four seconds; slowly exhale for four seconds; pause for four seconds; begin again. If you’re feeling anxious and stuck in a mental spiral, try this grounding exercise: pause to name five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
Get enough sleep. We’re more likely to become stressed and stay stressed if we’re sleep-deprived. A good night of sleep is necessary for our bodies and minds to function. Try to turn off screens an hour before you go to sleep and make your bedroom a news-free zone to help you relax and unwind. Good sleep is especially vital for those living with mental health conditions, as symptoms such as mania in bipolar disorder can be triggered from lack of sleep. (Learn more about getting good sleep for better mental health.)
Spend time in nature. Studies show that spending time in nature can help us reduce stress and anxiety. Consider time outside in your yard or neighborhood, or a local park or beach. Bonus: exercising in nature is even more beneficial. (Learn more about the mental health benefits of nature.)
Carve out “me” time. What’s your go-to leisure activity? Dedicate time for feel-good and engaging activities that will naturally take your mind off upsetting news. Read a novel, watch a rom-com or TV series, do a puzzle, listen to a playlist of your favorite songs, take a bath, walk your dog around the neighborhood…. Find more on practicing self-care here.
Seek support. Reach out to your network for support, making sure you connect with your inner circle. Count on your friends, family members, loved ones, therapist, faith leader, or support group members when you need to talk. None of us is alone. If you live with a mental health condition or have a family member living with a mental health condition, consider attending one of our free support groups. If you’re looking for mental health support, learn about finding a therapist. If you or someone you love is experiencing a crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text NAMI to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message. You can also contact one our CalHOPE counselors during business hours at on our warm lines: 424-293-0645 (English); 424-293-0646 (Spanish). (More about the CalHOPE program here.)