Podcast episode 13 What to do when the news feels overwhelming
Welcome to Pressing Pause, the podcast for overthinkers.
I’m Gabrielle Treanor and I’m a writer and teacher specialising in overthinking and overworrying. Here I share with you ideas, inspiration and actions to empower you to spend less time overthinking and worrying and more time enjoying your life.
Hello and welcome to episode 13. Today we’re looking at what you can do to help yourself when you feel overwhelmed by news reports of all the terrible things that are happening in our world, and the accompanying feelings of guilt, anger and helplessness.
In a previous career I worked in the editorial department of a children’s newspaper and the news channel was on the TV permanently. It kept us informed and up to date with breaking news, which is pretty essential for writing a weekly newspaper. Watching, listening, reading and writing news all day every day was all-consuming. In the years since leaving the newspaper I still follow the news as it’s important to know what’s going on in the world, but I’ve changed the way I consume news and been more aware of how it impacts me.
Being informed of what’s happening socially, politically and environmentally in your own country as well as the across the globe is important but there’s a difference between being informed and being overwhelmed. It can be easy for us overthinkers to get drawn into news reports of talks breaking down, shocking research findings, escalating conflicts, natural and manmade disasters and stay stuck within these reports long after we’ve gleaned the useful information. We can become glued to the 24 hour news cycle going over and over the same reports without getting anywhere. And all the while we’re feeling more tense and our minds are whirring at a faster pace as our thoughts become more catastrophic. At this point we’re no longer informed about local and global news, we’re overwhelmed by it. No-one, not us and not the wider world, is benefitting from us obsessively consuming news to only sit and spin with the awfulness of it all.
When watching the news motivates you to take action to address the issues by getting involved in campaigns or your local community that’s a positive, proactive response. That’s taking the information and doing something with it to make a difference. This doesn’t mean you need to work in a war zone or donate every penny you have to a humanitarian crisis. There are a myriad of ways you can make a difference, such as writing to your MP, joining in a demonstration, fundraising for a local charity, helping out a vulnerable neighbour or one of a hundred other actions you can take to make a positive impact on society.
So what about when you feel utterly overwhelmed and paralysed by what you’re seeing, reading and hearing of how the world is falling apart and we’re all doomed? Well, there are several things you can do to help yourself when you feel overwhelmed by the news.
Spend time with others
And I mean face to face rather than online. When we’re feeling anxious it can be tempting to withdraw and hide away where we can protect ourselves from the frightening outside world. But this can contribute to our fear, making us feel isolated. Instead, meet up with friends or connect with people in your neighbourhood. The vast majority of human beings are good, kind people, we’re surrounded by them, and you’ll see that when you look around your local community. I’m not saying you have to strike up conversations with strangers but smiling at someone as you pass them on the street or exchanging a few pleasantries with the person in the shop queue are little moments of human contact that benefit you and the other person. You can take it a step further and commit an act of kindness. Not only will you make them feel a little happier, you’ll help yourself to feel more positive too.
Limit your time on social media
There are lots of good things about social media and I scroll through Instagram and Facebook several times a day. But when emotions are running high and rumours, accusations, hearsay and harsh words, often all fuelled by fear, are filling your timeline it’s hard to see the facts and get a balanced view. Everyone has a right to express themselves, of course, but you choose whether to give them your attention. If scrolling through social media makes you feel stressed rather than informed, it’s time to step away for a while. Whether that’s a couple of hours or a couple of days is up to you but taking a break will help you get perspective.
Go for a walk
To get out of your head, and out of your worrying thoughts, get outside. If at all possible find a patch of nature to spend some time in. A study by Stanford University shows that being in nature reduces stress levels and the amount you ruminate – where you go over and over the same thoughts. So whether you’re in a park or a forest, wander around paying attention to what you can see, hear and smell. Notice what plants, flowers and trees are growing, and what you can hear. If the sun is shining look for the shadows it’s casting. If it’s raining notice the sound of the rain on your umbrella, watch it bounce in puddles and droplets land on petals. What you’re experiencing right now, in this moment is real. This present is what you can be sure of, you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future but where you are right now, what you can see and hear, is real. Listen to episode 8 for calming your mind with a mindful walk.
Challenge your thoughts
When thoughts are racing through your mind with worse case scenarios or what ifs they can quickly lead you to feeling anxious and afraid. Noticing you’re having these thoughts and challenging them can help you to realise that they are thoughts not facts. Take a fearful thought and look for the evidence to back it up. Who says that X is going to happen? Where’s the evidence to prove how likely it is? What do you know for certain will be the outcome? And if the answer is you don’t know, then you don’t know. Something bad could happen but something good could happen too. Or nothing could happen. If you don’t know the answer then you don’t know that the answer will be negative. Listen to episode 6 for more on how to disrupt the overthinking cycle.
Take a few deep breaths
When we’re feeling stressed we tense up, often without realising it. Take a moment right now to check in with what you’re body is doing. Are you frowning? Are your shoulders lifted? Is your stomach tense? Pay attention to where you’re breathing from. When we breathe from the top of our lungs, so the chest barely moves, it tells our mind and body there’s a threat so to be on high alert, ready to fight or flee. You can tell your mind there’s no immediate danger so it can take the stress levels down a few pegs by taking a few deep breaths, using all of your lungs. As you breathe in through your nose push out your stomach so that you can bring oxygen in to the bottom of your lungs. As you breathe out pull your stomach in so that you’re expelling all the air out through your mouth. Do this a couple more times, noticing your shoulders relax downwards with every exhale. Any time and anywhere you realise that you’re tensing up take a couple of deep breaths in and out.
Refocus your attention
Find an activity or task that needs your concentration. Play a game with your children that requires you to focus fully on them. Watch your favourite comedian, sing along to your most uplifting tunes, read a book – whatever will help you quieten your mind, breathe more deeply and relax your body.
Watching 24 hour news until you feel upset and stressed and unable to think straight enough to take action doesn’t help anyone, including the subjects of the news reports. Remember that you are not helpless, you’re just overwhelmed with the enormity of the news you’ve overdosed on. Think about what you can do to calm your overthinking brain and take care of yourself, so that you can then move forward and make a positive difference in the lives of those around you and in the wider world.
Thank you for joining me for Pressing Pause, the podcast for overthinkers. You can find the show notes and other episodes at gabrielletreanor.com/podcast along with information on how to subscribe to this podcast on iTunes and Stitcher.
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You can also find lots more to empower you to overthink and worry less and enjoy your life more, including the Nook of Inspiration free resource library and the range of online courses, at gabrielletreanor.com.
And if you’re on Instagram come say hi to me, I’m @gabrielletreanor.
Thanks again for listening, until next time, lovely people.