What to Do When Current Events Cause Anxiety
Thursday, July 21 2016 Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
Current events cause anxiety. News and media tell of violence and strife, hate, political problems, and more, and it takes a toll on our mental health. In many cases, these events are geographically distant from viewers and thus aren't an immediate threat to life and wellbeing. Why, then, do we experience news media anxiety? Further, what can we do when current events cause anxiety?
How Current Events Cause Anxiety
Horrific events impact us on every level: thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Violence inspires worry, fear, and, in extreme cases, can lead to generalized anxiety disorder. Life-threatening, security-shaking events can also increase stress, tension, panic attacks, a sense of vulnerability, and avoidance behaviors. Learning about tragic events can trigger existing symptoms of anxiety or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The anxiety created by current events is all-encompassing, and anxiety after a tragedy can keep us from living fully. A key factor in the ability of current events to cause anxiety is a sense of control. The feeling that we lack control over events in our world comes from a combination of things:
- With distant events we can feel stressed and anxious that we're powerless to do anything;
- With events in our proximity we can feel fear and anxiety about our own safety and the safety of loved ones;
- With the often-random nature of events we can increasingly worry about safety and security;
- With things like political and social change, we can experience anxiety over what might change for the worse in our world.
Current events cause anxiety in large part because we have no sense of control over them.
How to Gain Perspective When Current Events Cause Anxiety
Unfortunately, we have very little control over the world and the people in it. We can't control someone's actions, but we can control our own actions, thoughts, and beliefs in our own world. If control is a contributing factor to anxiety over current events, one of the solutions is perspective. Perspective is how we interpret things around us.
Giving our full attention to reports about negative events skews our perspective. Doing so trains us to see mostly the bad in people, life and in the world. When we attend to negativity, we catastrophize, believing that the world is scary and unstable.
We then worry about and fear for the health and safety of ourselves and our loved ones; thus, anxiety overtakes our thoughts and emotions and impacts our behavior. While we don't have control over certain big events on the news, we do have control over ourselves and our perspective.
These tips can help you put current events in perspective and decrease anxiety:
- Narrow your focus. While it's good to know about global events, focusing too much on distant occurrences can lead to overgeneralization. To avoid thinking that all problems are happening to you right now, reign in your perspective. Giving your own world your full attention will prevent you from overgeneralizing and living with anxiety and fear.
- Limit news exposure. When we have near-constant exposure to news reports, we become overloaded. What we pay attention to is where our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors go. Watch or read the news just enough so you feel that you know what's going on, and then stop. Go do something else to shift your perspective away from current events and into your life.
- Remember what's reported. The vast majority of news is negative. We hear about scandals. We hear about acts of violence. We don't always hear about all the people who aren't scandalous or violent. News focuses on the current events that make the world seem completely rotten. Keep in perspective the fact that there's a whole lot of good that simply isn't reported.
- Take action around you. There's much that we can't control. There's also much that we can. What current events make you the most anxious? Can you get involved in your own community or neighborhood to take positive action for change?
Current events can absolutely cause anxiety. They take away our sense of control, but by shifting our perspective, we can regain control and decrease anxiety.