Navigating the Storm: Managing Your Mental Health Amidst Negative World News

If you’re like me, you’re grappling right now with what feels like a relentless onslaught of negative world news. While nothing happening in the world is necessarily new, per se, a whirlwind of uncertainty, anxiety, and frustration seems to be swirling and it can feel next to impossible to find shelter from the storm. If you find yourself retreating into less-than-ideal habits or forms of self-soothing that aren’t aligned with your life goals, I assure you, you’re not alone. Which begs the question: how can we keep ourselves on track amid the barrage of negative news we’re inundated with? Here are three practical ways to find calm in the midst of chaos.

Why does the world seem so negative, and how does it affect us?

Before we dive into what to do, let's address the elephant in the room: why does the news always seem so grim? While there are too many factors to get into here, let’s stick with two of the most important: our natural negativity bias and our news/social media algorithm’s harnessing of it. “Negativity bias” is the psychological term for our brain's natural tendency to pay more attention to negative information than positive. Think of it as a survival mechanism; our ancestors needed to focus on potential threats to stay safe because in a truly dangerous world, while missing positive information generally allowed for another chance, missing negative information generally did not. For instance, if there was a rustling in the bushes, an ancestor who imagined it to be the wind, might have been right much of the time, but only needed to be wrong once to become dinner. But while an ancestor who imagined it to be a wild animal hungry for people might have missed out on a few berries each time it was only the wind, they also avoided the one fatal encounter that would have ended their genetic line. Obviously, this is a gross oversimplification but does provide insight into our natural tendency to prioritize negative sensory input over positive. 

Our algorithms know this dichotomy all too well, or at least, the people who designed them did. And in an attention economy where eyeballs equal dollars, the best way to keep people engaged is to trigger that negativity bias by emphasizing information that feels personally threatening. Call it “engagement through enragement.” Hence a social media and news feed that seems almost exclusively bleak. 

Combine this with 24/7 news/social media access, which we’re almost all guilty of engaging with, and suddenly the overwhelming impression becomes clear: things are bad and we’re right to be terrified.

So, what happens when this constant onslaught of negativity enters our lives? We start to feel anxious, overwhelmed, and even powerless. We begin to ask ourselves, "Why is the world like this? Can't things be better?" Or, even more perniciously, we come to the conclusion that it can’t.

So, what can we do? After all, even putting aside the negativity emphasis, there really are significant issues in the world today. War, racism, poverty, crime, political upheaval, polarization, and a possible erosion of human empathy and cooperation are all real issues that affect us and the world in which we live. But if we’re to have any hope of combating these concerns, we must be in a psychologically healthy enough space to take the requisite actions. As every good flight attendant tells us: we have to put our oxygen mask on first, before helping others. So, what does that look like?

1. Find Balance through Mindfulness

Now, mindfulness is quite a buzzword these days, so let’s do a small thought experiment. Imagine that you’re on a ship in the middle of the ocean when a storm springs up around you. The waves are crashing, the wind is howling, the sky is dark and threatening and it feels like chaos. Imagine how out of control you would feel as your ship was tossed about by the angry sea. Now, imagine if you could send a giant anchor on an indestructible chain directly into the sea floor, allowing you to remain steady despite the turmoil. That's what mindfulness can do for your mental health.

Mindfulness is like your anchor in the storm. It involves focusing your attention on the present moment without judgment and, instead of drowning in the sea of thoughts and feelings that negative news sends cascading through your person, you learn to navigate it calmly. It doesn’t make the issue go away, but allows you to connect with where you are in the present moment so you can better choose what needs to be done. To paraphrase Victor Frankl, it allows you to choose your response in any moment. And therein lies your freedom.

Here's a practical exercise for you: take just a few minutes each day to sit in silence, focus on your breath, and let your thoughts flow without judgment. Then, take a moment to concentrate on your senses; what you can actually see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. This simple act can help you return to present, gain clarity, reduce anxiety, and find your center.

2. Use your "Theory of Mind"

This may seem like a strange digression, but let's delve into some psychology jargon for a moment. "Theory of Mind" is the ability to understand that other people have their own thoughts, beliefs, and perspectives, different from our own. It’s a profound human trait and only comes into our being around the ages of three or four (the lack of this ability is why most kids under three believe that if they know something, you do, too). As nonsensical as it sounds, in the context of negative world news, this concept can be a game-changer.

One of the most psychologically disturbing experiences our mind throws at us is, like said two-year-old above, the unanswerable “why?”. “Why?” is a powerful tool of human consciousness that has helped us uncover the greatest mysteries of science, create impossibly beautiful art and philosophy, and engage our human minds to the fullest of their potential. But it can also be a trap that our mind lays to simply spin in place and chew on aspects of the world we’re unhappy with without identifying any tangible steps we might take to overcome such issues. When we find ourselves spinning, instead of continuing to throw our “whys” at the universe, we can recognize that people on both sides of any contentious issue have their reasons, even if we fundamentally disagree with the legitimacy of those reasons. Understanding their perspective doesn't mean you have to agree with it, condone it, or accept it. But just by knowing it’s there, we can reduce our own anger and frustration and decide what action we might then take to resolve the situation or simply move on with our lives in a way that feels aligned with our values.

3. Take Action and Focus on What You Can Control

Which leads to the final point and an important reality check: you can't control the world, but you can control your response to it. Instead of hopeless “whys” as to the motivations of others, ask yourself instead, "What can I do to make a positive impact in my own life and in the world, right now?" Maybe it's volunteering, donating, or simply being kind to those around you. Maybe it’s some form of self-care allowing you to recharge your own battery to better prepare you to take more action in the future (which is itself an action). Maybe it’s just stretching your body and breathing for a moment (you know, like in point 1…). Taking action, no matter how small, empowers us and counteracts feelings of helplessness and instability.

A Final Note of Encouragement

Amid so much negativity, remember that you're not alone, and your feelings are valid. It's okay to take breaks from the news when it becomes overwhelming. It's okay to find support from friends, family, or a therapist. And it's definitely okay to focus on the positive aspects of life: pets, nature, laughter, song. In fact, these aren’t just okay, they’re integral parts of maintaining your psychological, physical, and emotional health to ensure that you’re able to keep fighting for what’s right in the world. There are problems in the world that need fixing, and when things feel the darkest, that’s when hope provides its most needed light. Self-care allows us to tap into that light and allow it to shine into the dark places of the world.

In the grand scheme of things, the world has seen its share of crises, and it's also witnessed the resilience of the human spirit. You are a part of that resilient spirit. You can weather this storm and find moments of calm and positivity amid any challenge the world may offer. 

So, breathe, use mindfulness to calm the storm, and know that you have the tools to manage your mental health, even in the face of negative world news. In doing so, you'll not only weather the storm but also help make the world a better place, one step at a time. And if you’re looking for a partner on your journey, Lifeologie Counseling is here for you. Click here to meet our many specialists and find out which therapist in our practice is right for you!


About Richard Aab

Richard Aab, LCMHCA, has a BFA in Theatre from NYU and received his Clinical Mental Health Counselor, M.Ed. (Master’s in Education) from North Carolina State University. He is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Associate (LCMHC-A) and Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC). Richard has a deep commitment to working with individuals overcoming developmental and childhood trauma, and he combines cutting-edge, neuroscientific research with traditional existential and behavioral therapeutic modalities. He is supervised by Elizabeth Grady, LCMHCS, and sees adult clients by telehealth.

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