By Diane Sadowski-Joseph
If you’ve been communicating with the outside world lately, you’ve likely noticed an increase in general fear and angst. As someone who’s dealt with chronic anxiety for years, this is a familiar mental pattern. It can often look like this:
Hmm, that’s a concerning piece of news > Should I be worried? Yes. Yes, I should. > Actually, there are LOTS of things to worry about > THE WORLD IS THE WORST IT’S EVER BEEN!
Your brain is creating layers of inference based on the interpretation of one event – or in this case, news story. Once we have our inferences, confirmation bias kicks in and we seek out other cues to reinforce these perspectives. Soon you’re stuck in a spiral of negativity.
How can we interrupt the cycle? Here are five simple tactics to try.
Note: if anxiety is causing you acute mental distress or physical symptoms (racing heart, trouble sleeping) please consult a mental health professional.
1. Regulate media consumption
Studies show that exposure to negative news impacts anxiety, sadness, and personal worries. The reality of our media environment today is that there is always another depressing article to read. It’s easy to get pulled in and hop from article to article, interpreting the volume of information as a sign that something is a really big deal. If you don’t want to go full avoidance, try picking a trusted news source and creating a ritual for when you check. For example, you could check while you wait for your coffee to brew, or set a timer once you open the browser. Any time works except…
2. No news naked
Initial conditions matter, and if you go into fight or flight mode first thing in the morning, you’ll likely spend the rest of the day fighting to get out of that mode (cortisol is a hellava hormone). Same thing when you’re trying to sleep. Anxiety and sleep are intimately tied: anxiety reduces sleep, and sleep deprivation increases anxiety. To ensure a strong start and end to the day, I’ve adopted a “no news naked” approach – that means not looking at my phone until after I’m dressed and no phone after I’m changed for bed.
3. Balance your inputs
Find sources of good news – this could be focusing on certain stories, connecting with family and friends, or even finding good sources of news within yourself with something like a gratitude journal. You can take it one step further and share that good news to create an even stronger positive psychological effect. A source I love is reddit uplifting news – it reminds me that there’s a lot of good stuff going on even if it’s not in the headlines. Case in point, the humpback whale population is bouncing back!
4. Do a physical/mental status check
Acute stress, fatigue, changes in routine mean your brain is going to follow the path of least resistance, which is negativity. Note when you’re not in an optimal state, so you avoid taking these reactions too seriously.
5. Double-down on comforting rituals
I’m referring to the things that make you feel good long-term (not doubling the amount of ice-cream you eat). For me that’s exercise. In times of stress, it’s easy to feel like these things are “low priority” when the opposite is true. So, when I’m stressed, I’ve learned to make an extra point not to skip the gym – my brain thanks me for it.
The great thing about these tactics is that even just doing one or two can often be enough to shift into a more positive, productive mindset. Worst case scenario, there’s always that extra scoop of ice cream.