The news headlines have been dripping in blood this month, and the parade of horror has taken a psychological toll on readers and viewers. These are some thoughts for dealing with what may be an overload of bad news.
- Don’t try too hard to understand or rationalize emotional reactions to the various disasters — yours or anyone else’s. For any story, some people will hear it with more immediacy than others. It is difficult and probably impossible to say that one reaction is more correct than the other. Your own reactions to different stories might seem inconsistent, but the differences are based on details of your psychological triggers that you couldn’t possibly figure out on the spot. Fortunately, this is not important. Seeking consistency in your reactions can lead to soul-searching questions such as, “Why do I react one way to an event that affects rail passengers and a different way to an event that affects striking port workers?” If you have to search your soul, this is totally not the way to go about it. Just accept that your own reaction to unexpected news of violence will not make any more sense than the violent events themselves. If you can’t hope to understand your own reactions, there is also nothing to be gained by criticizing others’ reactions or lack thereof.
- If you are already upset by the story, don’t watch the video. To be sure, for every video that ends in violent death, there is someone somewhere who is obliged to watch it. In almost every case, though, that person is not you. Allow others to watch the video and trust that their short descriptions of the content will be accurate enough. Watching TV news, you don’t control what shows up on the screen from moment to moment, but you can guess how long a video clip will be. Close your eyes for that length of time and ten seconds more.
- If there is too much bad news, tune out the more distant stories and focus closer to home. Keep watching the news if you personally may have to evacuate or seek shelter for your own safety. If a disaster is unfolding in the town where you live or work, follow the details as well as you can, especially if there may be a way you can provide assistance. If a disaster story does not require an urgent action on your part, it won’t cause a problem if you put off looking at the story until you feel ready.
- Don’t connect the dots. Two events that show up on your screen around the same time will tend to seem connected even when they aren’t. There is little harm in finding trends at the most superficial level (“There seems to be a lot of violent news this month”) but don’t waste brain cells and risk embarrassing yourself concocting theories to connect events that, seen from a distance, are probably related to each other only in a much more general sense. Most of all, don’t jump to the conclusion that the disaster news will continue indefinitely and keep getting worse. All this bad news is not the end of the world. That thought is just another version of the same connect-the-dots theory.
Reducing the emotional impact of disaster news is only the first step. You and the people around you may also need a way to recover from the shock of the news. That may be so even if everyone seems to take the news well enough on first hearing it. There are many approaches to recovering from the shock of bad news, but the key to all of them is sufficient sleep. Therefore, don’t stay up late into the night watching disaster news coverage that is just repeating the same summary every half hour with little new information. Turn off the news at least an hour before you might want to go to sleep to reduce the risks of insomnia and nightmares. Sleep and dream of something different. Tomorrow is another day.