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How to cope with the anxiety and fear of a bad news cycle that feels beyond your control

If the current news is making you feel anxious, scared and helpless, three mental health experts have shared their advice on how to process and cope with what’s going on

Hollie Richardson,Charlie Duffield
Monday 28 February 2022 16:38 GMT
The current news about global crises might be causing you fear and anxiety.
The current news about global crises might be causing you fear and anxiety. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The state of the world has once again taken a turn for the worse following Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine.

It’s now the fifth day of conflict, and the UN says at least 368,000 refugees have fled the eastern European country, with Russia’s nuclear deterrence forces on high alert.

World leaders have condemned Russian president Vladimir Putin for launching an “unprovoked and unjustifiable” attack, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the next 24 hours will be “crucial”.

You’re certainly not alone if the shock and tragic reality of conflict has impacted your mood and mental health.

On Saturday, Radio 1 presenter Greg James shared on Instagram post, linking to the British Red Cross’ Ukraine appeal, and saying : “We’re all feeling pretty useless, angry and heartbroken at the state of things in Ukraine.”

The arrival of war came just as Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced an end to remaining coronavirus rules - but living through a global health pandemic over the past two years has been a rollercoaster of emotions in itself, with waves of fear and anxiety a common experience for many people.

During the first lockdown alone, almost half (49.6 per cent) of people surveyed by the Office for National Statistics reported high levels of anxiety.

In addition, a landmark United Nations climate change report released today has said the opportunity to secure a “liveable” future for all is fast disappearing, with extreme weather events, trauma and the loss of livelihoods likely to adversely affect people’s mental health.

It marks the first time the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has spelled out a link between mental health and the climate crisis.

It’s easy to feel helpless, scared and anxious about world crises that seem out of your individual control.

“It’s understandable that the news can make us feel anxious and helpless at times; there’s so much going on in the world and some of it is far from positive,” psychologist and CPPC London co-founder Caroline Plumer tells The Independent.

“Empathy with those who are suffering is a great quality to have, but in extreme situations such as the war in Ukraine, which is far from home, being overly empathetic and taking on the feelings of others as our own can actually be unhelpful.

“We need to strike a balance between allowing ourselves to feel sad, not rejecting that feeling completely as some often do with negative emotions, but also not letting the feeling consume or overwhelm us. It’s also helpful to recognise that anxiety, although common and natural, is rarely useful in helping us achieve our aims.”

She adds: “Try not to catastrophise on a personal level – yes, there are catastrophic things going on in the world, but part of the reason we can feel so acutely worried about them is because we start to see them as an attack on our personal safety and circumstances.”

If you’re in a familiar environment, remind yourself that, at present, you are safe

Plumer explains that it’s worth considering whether there are things that you’re worrying about that are within your control: “Of course you cannot assume responsibility for the entire climate crisis, but you can do your bit in terms of recycling and reducing carbon footprint. With crises like the invasion of Ukraine, there are aid organisations that you can support and donate to.

“This not only helps give some back a feeling of control and empowerment, but also the sense of connectedness and belonging we get from being part of a common goal and working towards a greater good can be hugely beneficial to our mental well-being.”

Dr Becky Spelman, a psychologist from Private Therapy Clinic, adds: “It’s normal to feel an emotional reaction, but alongside that must be the recognition that most of it is out of your control. It isn’t easy and it needs practice.

“One way to do this when you’re triggered is to mentally step back and remind yourself through a simple statement to surrender to the fact that it’s not something you can personally control, with the aim of changing your emotional state.”

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Offering advice on how to deal with anxiety during times of uncertainty, Brendan Street, Head of Emotional Wellbeing at Nuffield Health lists:

Switch off

“We’re bombarded with bad news and this takes its toll on our mental health. While it’s important to stay updated with news that impacts us, we need to know when to take a step back. Check a trusted news site once in the morning and again in the evening to catch any important updates, but try to avoid your phone and switch off the TV for the rest of the day.

Focus on your breath

Simple breathing exercises can help us stay in control. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Take long, slow inhalations through your nose, hold for a few seconds comfortably and then exhale out through your mouth. Not only will this take your mind off the uncomfortable feelings, but research suggests around six exhalations a minute can trigger a relaxation response, which helps alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Challenge unhelpful thinking

It’s completely normal to worry about the unknown but to cope with regular changes and uncertainties, we need to learn to take them in our stride. Try to understand your common unhelpful thought patterns. When you feel stressed or anxious, write down the trigger, associated thoughts, and the mood you experienced. Also note how the situation turned out. Often, we read back through our experiences and learn, while our thoughts may focus on the worst-case scenario, things rarely turn out like this.

While it’s definitely worth trying out these tips, if anxiety feels like a constant companion, it might be worth speaking to a professional.

For more information on help and support with anxiety, contact Mind mental health charity. The NHS website also has information on mental health services.

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