Anxiety and the World News: Is It Just Me or Is It Getting Hot Out There?
Me: ‘Is your phone working? Mine is acting up. Can’t call or get calls.’
Friend: ‘Mine is out too. OMG! DO U THINK ITS RADIATION?’
My friend was genuinely scared. As I reassured her it was not radiation, just our wireless service messing up, I realized I wasn’t the only one feeling anxious about what was going on around the world.
Lately global events have challenged even the most calm person not to give in to anxiety. Like a tsunami, one disaster after another threatens to overwhelm all our best defenses and sweep us into the void.
Here are just a few of the things we have been bombarded with in the news this last month:
- Japan: The earthquake, tsunami and now a possible nuclear reactor meltdown spreading a cloud of radiation.
- Libya: A leader killing his own people and now a no-fly zone bringing the US and allies into another possible war.
- The entire Middle East appears to be de-stabilizing.
- What happened in Wisconsin. Unions for public workers under attack.
- Earthquake recovery in New Zealand
- Flood recovery in Australia
- Haiti still struggling
- Ivory Coast
That doesn’t even touch the common everyday stuff we usually worry about:
- Wars, lest we forget, still waging in Afghanistan and Iraq
- Global warming
- The national deficit and budget woes
- Drugs in our kids’ schools
- Cancer, chronic illness, infectious diseases
- Aging parents
- Making ends meet, jobs,
Yikes! No wonder we can’t sleep!
What can we do for ourselves to keep calm and functional for ourselves and our families?
Here are a few ideas:
- Turn off the radio or television. Get off the news blogs. Our brains and bodies were not made to assimilate repeated traumatic news. All we achieve is overloaded circuits and increased anxiety. Allow yourself to walk away from the news and come back to it later if you must and then only for ten minute updates.
- Breathe. If you begin to feel the yellow flag signals of anxiety coming on (increased heart rate, shallow breathing, tense muscles, sweaty palms…) use your coping tools to keep the fear under control. Don’t run away from the feeling. Stop and breathe through it. Keep breathing; make yourself as comfortable as possible.
- Go to healthy distractions, like exercise, call a friend, go to church, mosque or temple. If you’re at work, don’t expect yourself to focus as usual, be easy on yourself and keep your schedule light if you can.
- Reflect on something beautiful. Listen to music you love, see a well-crafted play or movie, read brilliant poetry or prose, go to a fine arts museum, a garden, park, or nature preserve. Feast your senses on those things that feed the soul and remind you there is still goodness in the world.
- The best antidote to anxiety is action. What can you do? You can help. Find a way to give back in action or donations to those who lost everything. Find out where you can give blood and go do it. It may not help in this situation but it will help someone somewhere in another emergency. You can also pray; pray for those who perished, their families and for the emergency response teams.
- Be calm for your kids. If you have small children, they need you to be grounded and practical. Answer their questions as directly as you can without elaborating. They want to be reassured. Do not overwhlem them with too much information. If they ask: “Will an earthquake happen here?” Answer: “No, of course not. This is a very strange thing that happened. It’s never happened before and it will never happen again.” This is a perfectly appropriate thing to say to small children. It may be a slight exaggeration but not much and they need to be reassured they are safe. If your children are older and can reason you can explain to them the chances of such an event happening in your region adding that every precaution and preparation has been made.
- Don’t give in to the anxious thoughts. Fight back. Remember to give yourself the oxygen of balanced thinking. You are fine. Tragedies of this magnitude coming at us at once challenges all of us but most of us are OK. We need to remind ourselves, “Today I am OK, my home is OK, my kids, are OK.”
Sadness is not the same as anxiety. Neither is grief. Grief is necessary. Respect it. Anxiety is an intruder. Firmly tell it to leave.
As a bonus hear this interview with Dr. Robert DuPont, a professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University , who specializes in fear.
What do you do to handle anxiety brought on by the world news? Please share your ideas with us in the comments.