How to cope with the stress of breaking news

Whatever each of us is going through, we must try to remember that we are not going through it alone.

By Lisa Firestone (The Shrink)

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Published: Sun 15 Mar 2020, 9:03 PM

Last updated: Sun 15 Mar 2020, 11:07 PM

There is a lot of understandable fear and confusion surrounding the coronavirus.
Having recently been declared a pandemic, most of us are in an uncharted state of uncertainty, and our anxiety is through the roof. Many of us are practising social distancing, with some already in isolation or quarantine. The mental health effects of these circumstances are likely to be vast as we know from prior research, but whatever state we may find ourselves in, self-care is essential. There are powerful tools and practices to adopt right away that can help us take care of ourselves and one another. Here are some tips to help us cope in this period of uncertainty.
1. Embrace self-compassion
If there was ever a time to wholeheartedly embrace compassion, that time is now. "Self-compassion is associated with significantly less anxiety and depression, as well as more happiness, optimism, and positive emotions," says lead researcher Dr Kristin Neff. When we're alone or afraid, a critical voice in our head can start to take over, critiquing our actions and exacerbating our fears. Practising self-compassion not only gives us a break from beating ourselves up, but it allows us to feel connected to others through a shared human experience.
2. Practice mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation can be a life-changing way to attain a sense of peace and presence in times of stress. The exercise helps us to focus our attention on our senses, messages from our body, mental activities such as thoughts, and the internal workings of our own mind (awareness of awareness) and, lastly, on our sense of connection to others.
3. Try 4-7-8 breathing
Relax your body often by doing things that work for you - take deep breaths, stretch, meditate or pray, or engage in activities you enjoy. Breathing can be a powerful tool to manage anxiety and any overwhelming emotions. A simple place to start is with 4-7-8, a five-step breathing exercise that is easy and effective. The exercise can be done anytime, anywhere, and can help relieve stress, lower blood pressure, and induce sleep. Here's how it works:
. Start by putting the tip of your tongue to the top of your mouth just behind your two front teeth.
. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds.
. Hold your breath for a count of seven seconds.
. Breathe out through your mouth for a count of eight seconds. Try to make a "whooshing" sound as you do this.
. Start again immediately. Breathe in for a count of four and continue through the cycle 4-5 times before returning to your normal breath for the most benefit.
4. Reach out to others
Even when we cannot meet in person, it is incredibly important to keep connecting to friends and family. According to SAMHSA "reaching out to people you trust is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety, depression, loneliness, and boredom during social distancing, quarantine, and isolation." They recommend using phone, email, text messaging, video calling, and social media.
5. Engage your mind
When a crisis occurs, it can be really hard to think of anything else. Yet, with each day passing, we must find ways to tune in to who we are and what matters to us. Finding activities that stimulate our mind and distract us is important. Working from home is a good way to keep busy. Taking time to play games with our family, read, write, do puzzles, watch interesting movies or TV shows, and have conversations that focus our attention in new ways all can be extremely beneficial. We should try to stay curious and committed when it comes to keeping our mind awake and well.
6. Take media breaks
Watching or reading the news can be one of these stressful activities. 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.
7. Exercise (safely)
Staying physically healthy is important. Exercise reduces anxiety, releasing feel-good chemicals like endorphins and reducing chemicals that can make us feel down. Physical activity also increases body temperature, which can help us feel calmer. Yoga is a great practice that can also have huge benefits in terms of calming our nerves and helping us stay present.
8. Connect with nature
A report from the University of Minnesota showed that "being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings." Even having a household plant nearby can help us feel less stress, while looking at photos of the outdoors can help us stay calm and focused. Nature can have remarkable calming and healing effects on how we feel and can be a powerful tool in coping with anxiety.
9. Practise optimism and gratitude
Last but not least, we can make efforts to maintain a sense of hope and positive thinking. We may be living in a new kind of moment, but, we are doing what we can to get through it in ways that are safe, healthy, and compassionate. Chances are, we will start to miss a great many things, but this missing feeling is also one of deep gratitude for all the things we have and love as well as what we miss. A gratitude journal can be a wonderful way to focus on the positive, to be grateful for each day we have, and to zoom in what is going well under the circumstances.
Whatever each of us is going through, we must try to remember that we are not going through it alone. We are learning, and we are leaning on one another in novel ways. The love and care we have for one another is challenged to shine brighter in dark times, and finding new ways to express that love is a challenge we should welcome. We must remember to take care of ourselves and of one another, knowing we are in this together, and together, we'll move forward.
- Psychology Today
Lisa Firestone is a clinical psychologist, an author, and the Director of Research and Education for the Glendon Association

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