Watching the news is a pivotal part of staying involved in the rapidly changing society of the 21st century. Current events are headlining news stations with updates about unfolding situations blaring in red print on the “breaking news” sections across the world. However, starting the day off with graphic depictions of violence can be draining. While it’s encouraged to stay on top of the news, it’s important to prioritize your mental health when keeping up to date becomes overwhelming. If you are like me and are determined to stay educated on current events, there are several ways to gain information while maintaining a positive mental-wellbeing – many of which have been backed up by researchers looking to support those suffering from the mental turmoil of the past few months.
Limit News Consumption
Becoming educated on a topic can be a task that takes hours of effort, but in order to limit the negative effect of the news on your mental health, it’s important to set a time limit to how much news media you consume in a day. When watching or reading news that depicts violence and graphic images, spending hours upon hours consuming that information can have several negative outcomes. According to VeryWell Mind, “a constant stream of sensational or ‘disaster’ reporting, whether you are exposed actively or passively, can elevate stress levels and trigger symptoms like anxiety and trouble sleeping” (Lindberg, 2020). In order to avoid the negative impacts of “doom scrolling”, VeryWell Mind suggests limited daily news intake to less than 30 minutes a day. This allows individuals to reap the benefits of staying informed on current events while protecting their mental health in the process.
Compassion Fatigue and Secondary Trauma
When repeated exposure to emotional and violent media occurs, many individuals suffer from a mental health issue called compassion fatigue (CF). From the Canadian Medical Association, “compassion fatigue is the cost of caring for others or for their emotional pain, resulting from the desire to help relieve the suffering of others. It is also known as vicarious or secondary trauma, referencing the way that people’s trauma can become their own” (CMA, 2020). Compassion fatigue is a completely normal feeling that is experienced by several people, particularly those working in the healthcare industry. According to Nurse Journal, compassion fatigue affects 16-39 percent of Registered Nurses (Walters, 2022). However, CF can be experienced by a variety of individuals and is especially prevalent during large world events. The Canadian Medical Association also states that some common symptoms of compassion fatigue include feelings of helplessness and powerlessness, increased sadness, anger, and irritability, and difficulty concentrating and making decisions. There are a variety of ways to cope with CF such as practicing mindfulness, establishing a solid self care routine, and reaching out to others for support. Whenever you are feeling burdened with the feelings of guilt and helplessness, it’s important to address those feelings and remember that empathy is a healthy feeling, especially regarding tough situations.
According to Healthline, guilt occurs when we feel responsible for our own mistakes or for a situation that is happening to someone else (Raypole, 2022). For those following current events, guilt and helplessness is a prevalent and overwhelming feeling. Many people feel guilt over receiving their basic needs of food, water, and shelter while others are being denied the same rights. The feeling of helplessness also stems from guilt, where those who feel privileged by receiving their basic needs feel conflicted that they are not doing enough to help those in crisis. An interview with clinical psychologist Dr. Maneet Bhatia on Global News included some strategies for overcoming these feelings of guilt and helplessness. Dr. Bhatia states that there are two types of guilt: healthy and unhealthy. Examples of healthy guilt include making mistakes and addressing our actions. He states that unhealthy guilt, however, is when we feel a sense of burden for circumstances that are out of our control, which is what several individuals find themselves facing today. He states that to avoid the negative effects of unhealthy guilt, we should focus on the positive aspects, such as empathy, and focus on what is in our control. We should channel our feelings of unhealthy guilt and use that empathy to make change and help out in ways that we can control instead of focusing on what we can’t. Dr. Bhatia also recites a term called survivor’s guilt, which is a feeling that occurs when someone has experienced a loss that you haven’t (Bhatia, 2023). Common symptoms include dwelling on what they did or did not do during the event as stated by Medical News Today (Legg, 2019). While feeling guilt is positive, it is important to acknowledge that intense feelings of regret and helplessness can affect our daily lives, and it’s important to take necessary measures to prevent that.
Staying informed on current events is an important duty as a human being because it enables us to feel empathy to those who are suffering around the world and take steps to enforce change. In the rise of global issues, it is important to prioritize mental health, no matter how pressing the feelings of guilt and helplessness can feel. The next time you feel yourself starting to become stressed and overwhelmed, remember to take some time off the radio, and shift your mindset before tuning in again. By validating our feelings and taking steps to protect our mental health, we can contribute to a positive mindset surrounding the dark times that we are facing, and work together to contribute to a better and more empathetic society.
Sara Lindberg, M. E. (2020, May 18). Is watching the news bad for mental health?. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/is-watching-the-news-bad-for-mental-health-4802320#:~:text=A%20constant%20stream%20of%20sensational,while%20also%20reducing%20your%20stress.
Canadian Medical Association. (n.d.). Compassion fatigue: Signs, symptoms, and how to Cope. https://www.cma.ca/physician-wellness-hub/content/compassion-fatigue-signs-symptoms-and-how-cope#:~:text=What%20is%20compassion%20fatigue%3F,trauma%20can%20become%20their%20own.
NurseJournal. (2022, February 18). How nurses can combat compassion fatigue. https://nursejournal.org/articles/combating-compassion-fatigue-in-nursing/#:~:text=Many%20nurses%20experience%20this%20problem,%2C%20oncology%2C%20and%20emergency%20care.
Raypole, C. (2022, September 30). Get over guilt with these steps. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/how-to-stop-feeling-guilty#the-bottom-line
Global News. (n.d.) Psychologist’s advice to managing guilt and helplessness in the wake of the conflict in the Middle East: Watch news videos online. https://globalnews.ca/video/10033138/psychologists-advice-to-managing-guilt-and-helplessness-in-the-wake-of-the-conflict-in-the-middle-east
MediLexicon International. (n.d.). Survivor’s guilt: What is it, symptoms, and how to cope. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325578
Image Credit: Ad Wammes
Note: The Free Your Mind Mental Health Society is an independent youth-led organization. The contents of this blog are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. In the event of a medical emergency, please call your doctor or 911 or other local emergency numbers immediately.