Today I switched off the news. I am normally an avid news junky, constantly updating myself online and on the radio particularly when political events are lively and lots is happening. I used to thrive on it, vicariously enjoying the thrills of what was happening across the world. But something has changed.  No longer is there a lighthearted uplifting section of a funny thing that happened, or a life-affirming story.  The balance seems to have disappeared and all that I am seeing and hearing is negative, dramatic, eye-catching clickbait. Maybe it’s because I’m accessing so much on my phone which is never more than a few inches away. Or perhaps the world really is that terrible at the moment. 

Either way, today I switched it off. And guess what? I felt so much better.  This gave me the urge to share a simple exercise with you for how to cope with overwhelming bad news. 

It can feel like everything is overwhelming at times. The news is bad, the planet is screwed, prices are soaring, life is really tough.  Perhaps things aren’t so great with your relationship, your friends have disappeared or are all having a fabulous time elsewhere or your work has hit the buffers and you’re arguing with ungrateful kids.  It’s easy to find yourself sinking under the mountain of concerns when daily life is like that for you.

Overwhelm is real and our modern way of living feeds into it, with constant news over a 24 hour cycle, internet and apps clamouring for attention with notifications.  That certain tone of phone beep which is guaranteed to steal your attention.  It is simply too much simulation and information for most of us to handle and simultaneously stay calm, balanced and sane.

And frankly, do we need it all?  If you’re not going to take any action over a new story, why do you need to know it?  As a former news junky, this isn’t an easy one for me, but if I know about an awful hideous violent attack that has happened in another country, what good does that do?  I am not going to take any action about it. Let’s get real here, I am not going to reach out or write to the victim or petition the local authorities to protect the victim better or follow up to see if the perpetrator gets justice. At best, I might remember later and give some money to Unicef. Mostly I just feel bad about it for a while and it adds to the general feeling of an overwhelming world that I can’t do anything about. 

And the tough love that I need to hear is that my feelings make no difference whatsoever.  SO WHAT if I feel bad, it doesn’t help anyone. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against taking action.  Of course, if you CAN contribute, change things, take action, protest, write letters, join Amnesty International or a climate change organisation to make the change you want to see.  Help in the foodbank, befriend the elderly, create a community fridge to counteract food poverty.  It will make you feel much better and more in control too, by taking action.  I massively admire action takers and they are ones making enormous differences in the world. This might be you, once you focus on what you want to change. I’m just saying, if you don’t do this, feeling bad just makes no difference to anyone else except you. 

And I’m all for journalism too – we need to have witness testimony to ensure justice and to have people be informed. Stories need to be told, I get that. We just don’t need it all, all of the time, immediately available and negatively affecting our mental health.   There has to be a level of screening out things that are not relevant, otherwise the overwhelm becomes anxiety, and rather than doing anything, we are frozen and stuck, unable to do anything. 

How to cope with overwhelming bad news – Top Tip

I recommend that each time you hear or see a piece of reported news,
you do this little exercise 

1. Decide if it is something that you are going to take any action about.

2. Write down what you will do and when. Take the steps that you say you will.

3. If you are not going to do anything about it, stop listening or watching immediately and drop it from your thoughts.

4. Choose a project that you are passionate and interested in. Begin to take steps to help towards that project. This helps you feel less overwhelmed because you know that you are making a difference with one thing you can. 

The Serenity Prayer is known for being adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous as their guiding prayer, but you don’t have to go to AA to find it helpful at times… here is a section of it, which I like the best 

God, grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change

Courage to change the things I can

And wisdom to know the difference

Living one day at a time

Enjoying one moment at a time…

I feel that there is indeed some serenity to be found in accepting the things that I cannot change and the first step for me in rejecting overwhelm and only concentrating on my goals and projects at the moment is to accept that I simply can’t do/fix everything and therefore I don’t need to know about it all. In some ways ignorance is bliss. 

I choose to turn off the news. Because I can and because I need to. 

If you’re struggling with overwhelming thoughts, you can always book a free no obligation call with me.

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