13 ways to protect your mental health during a stressful news cycle
Another strategy is to actually add more of certain types of content to your feed so that it’s more mixed and well-rounded. You might follow more accounts that provide uplifting content, whether that’s positive news stories, thoughtful essays, funny memes, mental health support, or extremely cute animals.
8. Ask someone you trust to give you news briefs
You can both cut down on screen time and give yourself a few minutes of comforting social connection by getting your news from someone you love and trust. “Don’t watch every news story, or even any. Ask a friend or family member to summarize the news for the day,” says Afiya Mbilishaka, PhD, a therapist and the owner of Ma’at Psychological Services. Or hop on the phone with a well-informed, thoughtful loved one to help each other process the news together.
9. Set basic boundaries for yourself.
Try small, simple rules to set parameters around your media exposure. For example, you might make the first hour of your morning news-free, only check your newsfeed or social feed at certain designated times during the day, or make your bedroom or kitchen table a no-news/no-phone zone – whatever you’ll realistically be able to stick to.
10. Set time limits for social media and news apps.
Once you’re doomscrolling, making the conscious choice to close the app or window can feel almost impossible. Fortunately, technology can help you make that decision for yourself ahead of time (before you’re lost in the vortex) – and stick to it. You can set hard usage limits on your social media or news apps using your phone settings (another recommendation from Dr. Mbilishaka).
There are also distraction-blocking apps and browser plugins you can use to stop yourself from browsing the news during certain periods or once you hit a specified time limit.
11. Turn off push notifications.
This is an obvious but often underused strategy that Riana Elyse Anderson, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan recommends. (Dr. Anderson also advises putting some physical distance between you and your phone by, say, putting it in another room, to help you resist your urge to check it.)
Another tactic is using push notifications more strategically—turning on notifications for one or two specific news sources and turning off everything else. That way, you can be assured that you’ll be alerted about important news updates while chilling out on constantly checking your phone.
12. Give yourself full permission to tune out temporarily
Yes, you’re allowed to turn off the news and zone out to trashy reality TV, or delete your apps for a day or two while you unplug and focus on other things. We often feel guilty about using distraction and denial when things are tough, but these can be healthy coping mechanisms to use in combination with other strategies. There’s a big difference between burying your head in the sand and strategically using distraction or escapism to take a break from the news.
13. Take little action steps
It’s easy to feel powerless in the midst of a horrific news cycle. But by using some of the strategies discussed above, you can have a positive impact on your own well-being as well as on other people – near and far.
When you take care of your own mental health, you’re in a better place to assist others. And a way to help yourself and your fellow humans is to think about what small, tangible actions you can take right now. For instance, maybe it’s making your voice heard through political action (by getting in touch with a representative or attending a protest), making a donation to a reputable non-profit directly helping people affected in the crisis (Charity Navigator is a good but non-exhaustive source for vetting groups), or helping out at a local organization that has nothing to do with what’s going on in the news.
Actually doing something in the real world, outside of the media whirlwind, can help pull you out of a stressful news cycle (if only briefly), benefit people who are suffering, and restore a small but real sense of agency.
If you are concerned about your mental health, it’s always recommended to book an appointment with your GP to discuss diagnosis and treatment. You can find your local GP here.
This article was first published on SELF.