Does the news fill you with fear or give you sleepless nights? World events can make us feel anxious, but don’t let them take over your life…
The news can make us feel anxious
Planes crashing or going missing, ISIS attacks. and the fear of a global Ebola epidemic … the first few months of 2015 have piled misery upon misery, with the news bringing us daily – if not hourly – updates on just how bad things are in the world.
As a result, it’s easy to feel anxious about the seemingly dangerous and unsettled place we live. If we’re not careful, this can affect our mental health.
Recent figures from the Mental Health Foundation show around 25% of us will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of the average year, with mixed anxiety and depression the most common mental disorder in Britain.
Over the past five years, women have admitted to becoming more anxious than they used to be, with 52% regularly feeling frightened, particularly about the welfare of our loved ones.
"What’s going on in the world seems more extreme than before," acknowledges stress resilience expert Cat Williams. "This in turn triggers feelings of threat and fear in us; some things are so far outside our own experience that we don’t know how to respond to them."
The good news is we can control our reactions to these events. Here’s our guide to keeping your head above the water…
1. Be aware of the bigger picture
Frederick Murphy/CDC/PA Wire
News coverage of the Ebola crisis continues
The reason big, negative events make the news is because they are noteworthy, and don’t happen every day. Hypnotherapist Sharon Stiles says, "There are also a lot of rumours that spread quickly following bad news, making people believe the “real” news is being kept from them.
"Most reputable news organisations will only deal in hard facts, but because anyone can now report on something, thanks to social media, some people might do so in a skewed way."
How to deal with it?
Check or research the facts before you panic. For example, diseases like Ebola are only spread via direct contact with bodily fluids (blood, vomit, faeces) from an infected person, so you’re unlikely to get it from someone sitting next to you. Seek out reliable, trusted news sources for updates on a story.
2. Don’t shut it out – even if you want to
It's important to not shut things out
Some people switch off from all news altogether, but psychotherapist Terri Boddell argues that this is denying what’s happening in the world. "Only by accepting reality can we be free from anxiety," she says.
How to deal with it?
"Don’t feel you need to “confront” these stories head-on by reading every single gruesome detail," says Terri. "But accept that these things occur. There are always going to be times or situations in your life where you won’t like what’s happening, or you are scared – such as a bereavement or a break-up. If you choose to resist them, you’ll remain in a state of distress for much longer. Accepting them makes it easier to move forward."
Also, share your fears with a partner, friend or professional. Call a helpline such as the Samaritans (08457 90 90 90, open 24 hours a day).
3. Acknowledge your anxiety
Talk about your anxieties
"For centuries, we grew up in small communities and only dealt with problems on our own doorstep," explains Sharon. "Now, we hear about terrible things going on all over the world because news is so immediate. When we perceive something as a threat, it prompts our natural “fight or flight” response, increasing our levels of adrenaline and cortisol."
According to Anxiety UK. problems arise "when this response is out of proportion to the actual danger of the situation, or when there is no actual danger present. This extreme form of stress is known as ‘catastrophe anxiety’".
How to deal with it?
Anxiety can cause tightness of the chest, shortness of breath and nausea, which in turn can lead to problems with sleeping, cause IBS, and even lower our immune system.
Stress expert Cat says, "If you feel panicky, control your breathing by inhaling and exhaling slowly and deeply. Avoid too much alcohol and caffeine, eat healthily, and remind yourself daily of the things you’re grateful for."
If you’re feeling irritable or tense, have a fear of losing control or a sense of dread, you should visit your GP in case you have an anxiety disorder.
4. Get some perspective
The odds of being involved in a terrorist attack in the UK is very low
Remember that the likelihood of something bad happening to you is very slim. A study from Oxford University found that the worldwide odds of dying in a plane crash are 1 in over 8 million.
After the events of 7/7, statistician Professor David Spiegelhalter calculated that the odds of being involved in a terrorist attack in the UK are very low. He says, "Even if these awful events were repeated every year, that would result in 50 deaths a year, on average a 1-in-a-million chance for each person – about the same as the chance of flipping a coin 20 times and it coming up heads every time."
How to deal with it?
Despite knowing the numbers, irrational thoughts can still creep in. "Take time to calm these as they happen," advises Cat. "If you feel like getting off a train or bus because you think someone is acting suspiciously, then acknowledge your fears, and act on them – they show you have a normal, fully working reaction to danger, which we have evolved, as humans, to stay alive.
"We live in difficult times, but keep perspective: how likely was it, really, that the man you saw on the bus was about to commit a terrorist attack? If you try to analyse your reactions calmly, then you can avoid becoming obsessive about them."
5. How to talk to children about distressing news
Explain things to your child in a reassuring manner
Cognitive therapist Dan Roberts explains:
"You can’t always protect children from what’s going on in the world, so if they ask you about things they’ve seen on TV, talk to them in the calm, reassuring, realistic way you would explain anything scary or worrying to a child.
"Explain that bad things do sometimes happen, but most of these stories are happening far away; that we live in a safe country at one of the safest times in Britain’s history; and that we, as parents, will protect our kids and help them stay away from risky places and situations, because that’s our job."