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The News Is Traumatizing. Here’s How to Break the Cycle

If the relentless stream of news has you in a spiral, you’re not alone. Here are seven tips on how to handle (and heal from) the stress.

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Whether it’s yet another video of a police altercation gone wrong or alerts about the latest mass shooting, we face a seemingly unrelenting deluge of disturbing news in our media feeds, timelines, and DMs on a daily basis. And it’s wearing us down.

About two-thirds of Americans say they’re worn out by the amount of news that’s coming at them, according to a Pew Research Center study. The 24-hour news cycle is not just exhausting; it can be traumatic—so much so that researchers believe watching violent videos causes symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Even people who view videos of merely confrontational situations suffer, according to the Dr. Margo Jacquot, founder of the Juniper Center, a Chicago-area counseling agency.

“Trauma responses are a result of the brain’s emergency response system getting stuck in the on position,” she writes. “Graphic images of horrific events come to us across television and social media in real time. Some people may experience vicarious trauma.” If we’ve experienced trauma first-hand, witnessed a trauma in real-life, or had something traumatic happened to someone we’re close to, watching violent images cause us to “re-live” the experience.

Why can’t we just disengage—turn off the television or put down the phone? Researchers think we’re caught in a cycle: The more we see, the more we want to see, especially if we already worry about violence like the mass shootings and police violence. We may think of being informed as a kind of self protection: If we know what’s happening, we know what to expect. But when we watch cell-phone recordings or body-cam footage of violent acts, we’re likely to feel a surge in anxiety. Those anxious feelings can continue to cycle for up to two years after the initial triggering event, according to a study published in 2019.

Use your yoga tools

No one knows the impact of the news cycle better than news reporters. While they’re the ones responsible for bringing the news to our TV screens, journalists and reporters aren’t immune to the effects of covering traumatic events. It’s such a concern that professional organizations like the  Society of Professional Journalists and the Asian American Journalists Association provide mental health resources for their members.  

Leslie Rangel, the News Yogi, co-anchors a morning show on Fox 7 in Austin, Texas. She’s an evangelist when it comes to using yoga to help manage stress. While she targets other journalists with her message, the techniques she uses work for anyone looking for a way to manage news burnout.

“I think there’s a common misconception that yoga is about peace and flowers and beautiful rainbows and butterflies,” she says. But it’s a tool we can use to notice discomfort, acknowledge it, and heal from it. “When we can learn, like we do in our yoga practice, to really sit with the discomfort and allow space for it…that is when healing begins.”

To handle news stress, Rangel says she doesn’t depend so much on postures as something she calls “yoga psychology.”

“Yes, it’s wonderful to do a tree pose,” she says. “But I think sometimes it’s even more important to just sit and notice, and perhaps even just lie down and meditate.” That aligns with suggestions medical professions give for handling PTSD.

Tips for managing the stress of the news cycle

Schedule your news

The Institute for Disaster Mental Health at State University of New York New Paltz recommends setting specific times for news consumption. “You may find it reduces your stress considerably to limit your exposure to a few intentional news checks a day, rather than…constantly monitoring the latest information.” Times to avoid: first thing in the morning and right before bedtime.

Choose your medium

Watching a graphic video may be more anxiety-producing than reading about the same event. Some experts suggest reading (on paper or online) or listening to the radio (but avoiding the shock jocks) may be a less stressful way to consume media.

Distract yourself

Clinical psychologist Lisa Firestone says disconnecting doesn’t mean you’re turning your back on current events. “We can give ourselves permission to pause and do something completely distracting, any activity that brings us pleasure and takes our mind off the source of our stress,” she says in an article for Psychology Today.

Practice mindful breathing

Focus on the breath to ground yourself in the present and combat anxiety. Rangel suggests box breathing: inhaling for four counts, pausing for four, then exhaling for four and pausing for four.

Get moving

Exercise releases endorphins, the brain’s “feel-good neurotransmitters. A vigorous yoga practice counts. Rangel varies her practice according to her physical and emotional needs. “On weeks where perhaps I was feeling really sluggish and almost in a depressive state, maybe [I’d do] an Ashtanga type practice where it was 90 minutes and you’re just moving and flowing,” she says.

Rest and restore

Taking time to be still and quiet is just as important, says Rangel. “Maybe today’s practice is just five minutes of breathing, five minutes of being able to just notice and be mindful, five minutes of getting outside and grounding, being in the grass with toes on the ground.”

Stay connected

Just because you’re disconnecting from the news, doesn’t mean you have to disconnect from your community. In fact, staying in touch with friends and family, online or in person can help relieve stress. If you’re not likely to get embroiled in a tense political conversation, staying in touch with your social networks—and staying in touch with yourself—does a lot to ease news exhaustion.

See also: 

Try This Grounding Practice in the Aftermath of Scary News Events

6 Poses to Calm Your Nervous System and Find a Sense of Safety

31 Yoga and Self-Care Resources for Black Yogis