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How to get things done when the news cycle is so depressing

The emotionally draining news cycle doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. A clinical psychologist shares her thoughts on staying grounded—and productive.

How to get things done when the news cycle is so depressing
[Photo: Jeremy Bishop/Unsplash]

It feels like it never ends. Between the recent spate of deadly shootingsclimate change devastation, the ongoing border crisis, and racist tweets from the president, it can be hard to remain optimistic—let alone get anything done.

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Marginalized communities will especially feel this pressure. And it’s all around us: Anytime you check Facebook or overhear a conversation in the break room, people are discussing yet another dehumanizing comment or depressing news story.

The psychological effects of negative news exposure

Being constantly exposed to depressing news does more than just put you in a bad mood. According to Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, licensed psychologist and the founder of Therapy For Black Girls, it can have long-term psychological impact. “It raises anxiety, it makes you question your own identity and the support that you have in your community. I think a lot of people feel hopeless, a lot of people feel demoralized,” says Bradford. 

Individuals tend to react in two ways—some people find that the more bad news they are exposed to, the more desensitized and numb they become. Others might find themselves constantly in a “fight or flight” mode. This kind of state, Bradford says, can also affect your sleep.

Bradford, who works mainly with black women, says that while POC have always experienced discrimination, social media has made it very easy for these kinds of stories to spread. This kind of exposure is a double-edged sword, she says. While it can make you feel less isolated to know that others are experiencing the same things, you may also see comments that dismiss the validity of those experiences. That can be harmful, Bradford, says, “because it makes you feel like, ‘okay, nobody cares.'”

The importance of self-care and channeling your frustrations

When the news leads to a sense of helplessness, Bradford says that it’s important to set some boundaries and take care of yourself. At the same time, it can be helpful to figure out how to channel your frustrations productively. When you see stories of injustice, for example, ask yourself whether there is something you can do. Can you organize in some way, or can you donate to people who are doing positive work?

“I think people sometimes get too hard on themselves,” Bradford says. They feel guilty about not knowing what to do straight away, or even from deciding to disconnect from the news. People tell themselves that those who are experiencing these forms of injustice can’t disconnect. Bradford says that this is an unproductive attitude. “There is no way [people] are going to make a difference” if they don’t take care of their own mental health, she says.

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When your job requires you to engage with the news

Of course, not everyone has the ability to set the boundaries when it comes to disengaging with the news. People in media and public relations, for example, have to report, edit, or craft statements about the news on a daily basis.

For individuals whose jobs may make it hard to unplug, Bradford recommends setting boundaries when you’re not on the clock. Don’t scroll through Twitter in your spare time, Bradford says. No matter what job you do, make sure to spend time with your family and friends, and communicate with them that you’re setting a limit on talking about the news to maintain your sanity. “I think connecting with nature is really important. If you can go and take a walk, doing something like that helps you engage with your senses.”

Get yourself in the right headspace

Bradford says that anytime someone experiences stress in the workplace, the best thing that they can do is to talk to someone who can understand what they’re going through. If possible, think about how you can involve them in your day-to-day work.

Psychology professor and Fast Company contributor Art Markman previously wrote that “one of the reasons people obsess over troubling news events is because we do so much of our work alone.” However, Markman said, “Humans are social animals. Our brains are wired to engage with others and to achieve goals together. Even if you’re anxious or stressed about something going on in the world, it’s much easier to concentrate on what you’re doing when there’s a whole group that’s engaged in it. You don’t have to rely strictly on your own motivation to stay on task–draw on the energy of others to help you.”

Your support network might not consist of people on your immediate team, but perhaps they can help you brainstorm some creative ways to tackle that project. Even holding an impromptu team meeting, Markman suggests, can help.

Bradford also says that employing some grounding techniques can also get you out of a fight-or-flight state. One technique she recommends is to engage all your five senses. This involves finding five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. “You’re really just wanting to engage your senses because you can’t stay in a heightened anxiety or panic,” Bradford explains. If music or meditation apps are more your thing, it may be beneficial to take a few minutes and ground yourself that way.

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Know when to ask for help

Sometimes, it’s not enough to rely on grounding techniques and talking to friends. There comes a point when seeking professional help makes sense. “I’m a big believer in therapy as a preventative kind of thing. If you’ve noticed [any changes] in your sleeping, eating, weight gain or loss, difficulty in connecting with people, anything that you notice now that is different from how it maybe was two or three months ago, ” Bradford says, those are signs that it might be time to consider therapy.

While Bradford acknowledges that some groups still face a stigma when it comes to seeking mental help, she stresses that there are many therapists who are doing work to actively reduce that stigma.

At the end of the day, Bradford believes that gratitude is a powerful way to maintain a sense of optimism. “Even during the worst of times, there are things you can be grateful for.” And when you spend your time being grateful, she says, it causes you to pay more attention to those things and not your latest push notification.

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About the author

Anisa is the assistant editor for Fast Company's Work Life section. She covers everything from productivity to the future of work

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