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by Margaret Fiero
Nonstop shelling in Gaza, Ebola outbreak, a passenger plane being shot down in Ukraine, ISIS making Al Qaeda look like the Lion’s Club, natural disasters occurring with an alarming frequency… at times it feels like the world’s crumbling around our ears. These tragedies are difficult for those with robust mental health to contemplate. Those who grapple with mental illness often face even greater challenges dealing with world strife.
Individuals affected by depression and anxiety may experience a sort of tunnel vision, in which they have a hard time seeing a broader perspective. An onslaught of negative news can feed into that narrowed view, compounding feelings of despair and doom. It is natural to feel helpless during times of tragedy, as if the problems we encounter in the news are too big to comprehend, let alone solve. Individuals struggling with mental illness may take those feelings a step further through personalization, which may involve feeling as though they should be doing more, or feeling guilty, as if they can’t enjoy life in the midst of so much suffering.
It’s normal to feel some anxiety, fear and sadness in trying times. These feelings are part of what it means to be an empathetic human, so consider it healthy to reflect on the world around you, rather than just pretending everything is hunky-dory. This doesn’t mean you should let yourself fall down a rabbit hole of internet sensationalism, just that there’s a happy medium between complete disengagement and morbid fascination. Here are a few suggestions on how to cope with traumatic world events:
1) Take your news in bites: Media outlets need to push the envelope on their news delivery to get the ratings they want. It’s our job as savvy consumers not to get sucked into the sludge. Some in the mental health community may advocate taking an occasional “news fast.” If media coverage of events is affecting your functioning, by all means, take a break. If you’re upset by the state of the world but want to remain an informed citizen, I would advise checking into the hourly newscasts on NPR, which are short and stick to the most important facts. For something more comprehensive, try The Week, a magazine that summarizes the biggest news of the prior seven days. Sometimes it can be easier to stomach the news through print or on the radio, as opposed to viewing disturbing images on TV.
2) Show compassion to others AND yourself. You might be tempted to feel guilty for your relatively comfortable existence, or regret that you should be doing more, but these are the times when you the best thing to do is focus on being grateful for the life you have. Maybe I’ve been living in Austin too long, but my advice would be to live in the now, avoid living in the past, live life to the fullest, and show kindness to strangers, loved ones, and yourself. Enjoy your health, your safety, those who are dear to you and your community. You may not be able to save the world, but you can “give back” by volunteering, donating to causes, being an activist, and/or sowing peace through your interactions with others and yourself. To cite the oft-quoted Gandhi line, “Peace begins with me.”
3) Seek professional help from a therapist if needed. Signs that you may be experiencing more anxiety and depression than normal include symptoms of panic attacks, chronic sleep issues, extreme fears, preoccupation with traumatic events, and self-medicating with alcohol and/or drugs. Make your mental health your priority and talk to someone sooner rather than later. If you feel that your or a loved one need help immediately, do not hesitate to make a counseling appointment. We have a skilled team of clinicians with expertise in many areas. You can also get more information from our adult counseling page.