When news’ cycles are stressful or intense, you may feel tempted to check the news or social media platforms every few seconds for more information. You may even feel addicted to the emotional rush that comes from panic-inducing headlines. As you spend more time in front of a screen during isolation and social distancing, here are some tips to help you avoid media overwhelm so you can protect your emotional wellbeing.
1. Check in with your emotions
When you feel the impulse to check the news, explore the emotional need you are trying to fulfil.
Are you trying to escape boredom?
Are you feeling anxious?
Are you procrastinating?
Do you need a break from what you’re doing?
Do you feel lonely?
Do you feel hopeless?
Familiarise yourself with the internal triggers that are making you want to check the news in the first place. Instead of trying to fight the emotion or giving into your impulse, acknowledge it and explore what’s going on.
2. Ground yourself in your body
Notice the physical sensations in your body. Chances are, you are experiencing some kind of physical discomfort.
Is the feeling in your chest?
Are you gritting your teeth?
Are you holding your breath?
Locate the feeling and breathe into it. Create space in your chest and, if possible, release the tension. If the feeling returns, repeat the process. The feeling will eventually pass.
3. Turn your attention to something else
Once you’ve checked in with your feelings and acknowledged them, turn your attention to something else. Instead of checking the news, what else can you do?
It’s handy to have a little list of default activities that you can turn to when you’re feeling overwhelmed by the media.
If checking the news is your default way of passing time, spend five minutes thinking about alternatives.
You’ll want a mix of short and longer activities, depending on the amount of time you can spare in the moment.
- Make a cup of tea
- Read a book
- Listen to a soothing playlist
- Drink a glass of water
- Get a snack
- Watch cute dog videos on TikTok or Instagram
- Message a friend
- Do a short lesson e.g. a Duolingo lesson
- Read a post from your favourite blogger
- Watch a fun television episode
- Listen to a podcast
Write these alternative activities on a post-it note and stick this somewhere visible. The next moment you feel the impulse to check the news, you can glance at the list and divert your attention to one of these activities.
4. Set boundaries
Set boundaries with the news and social media. Turn down the noise by switching off from stressful digital spaces.
Here are examples of boundaries that you can set for yourself:
- Delete news and news-driven social media apps from your phone
- Limit the number of times you check a news’ site a day (e.g. once every other hour)
- Use a website blocker to ban a site for an hour or two
- Set screentime limits for certain apps
- Unfollow or mute stressful accounts, groups or people
- Mute demanding WhatsApp groups
If you break a boundary, don’t spend a long time beating yourself up over it, which will potentially lead you to wanting to check the news more. Instead, acknowledge the negative feeling and put your attention on something else as per above.
5. Allow yourself to feel joy
During difficult and stressful news’ cycles, you may feel guilty for experiencing joy. You may fear that if you let joy into your life that you are not taking the situation seriously.
But joy is essential for your wellbeing. It is not a luxury.
Before you go to bed each day, spend a few moments a day noting 5 things that you are grateful for. While the news and media may make you feel that everything is terrible, touch in with things in your reality that spark joy. It could be the softness of your socks, having a supportive person in your life, enjoying a cup of tea. Whatever it is, allow yourself to enjoy the good things that are happening in your life, no matter how small.
During isolation and social distancing, it can be easy to lose yourself in panic-inducing headlines or never-ending arguments on social media. So the next time you are overwhelmed by the news, check-in with yourself, turn your attention something else and embrace joy.