Do you read the news and spiral into anxiety and depression? Hate how powerless you feel in the face of world war and disaster?

If ‘headline stress disorder’ is bringing you down, what can you do?

What is headline stress disorder?

It’s not actually a clinical disorder, but a smart term coined by an American therapist, Dr. Steven Stosny, to describe the rise of anxiety related to current events.

If, between reading the news and scrolling through your social media feeds, you feel increasingly worse, this might be you. It can look like:

  • muscle tension and a pounding heart
  • feeling exhausted and low
  • a sense of overwhelming powerlessness
  • crying when you see pictures of tragedy
  • feeling guilty about your life
  • having troubles sleeping after reading the news
  • walking around wondering why everyone else doesn’t care.

Why does the news make me so upset?

If we didn’t feel something reading about world tragedy, then there would be more to worry about than if we do.

Feeling upset is a normal response to seeing others suffer or feeling threatened. It shows you have empathy, or that you care about yourself.

And it doesn't have to be war or disaster to get us down, just uncertainty. A poll by the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) found that a third of Brits had their mental health affected by Brexit. And the American Psychological Association (APA) found that over half of Americans worried over the current political environment.

Of course the problem is that we also have to balance our empathy and concern with continuing our lives.

How to navigate ‘headline stress disorder’

1. Be honest about your intake.

Some publications are far more interested in very polarised, inflammatory news over factual news. And drama is addictive. Are you secretly addicted to the fake, exciting news?

Also watch how much time you spend imbibing.

It’s a good idea (and very eye opening) to spend a few days actually timing your intake and keeping a log. At the very least, start setting a timer for ten minutes when reading news and notice how fast the time goes.

2. Balance out the negative.

Negative thinking is addictive and can give us blinders. It can take conscious effort to then put our attention to positive things. But it gives us a more healthy perspective.

Try to take time to write out at least 5 things you are grateful for each day. Notice 5 things that are going right with the world.

3. Get mindful.

The more we binge on headlines, the less we notice what is right in front of us. And the less we notice what is in front of us, what we CAN control, the more powerless we feel.

Take time to breathe, to focus on your breath, to notice what is around you. Even better, start a mindfulness practise.

4. Be honest about what you CAN do.

It’s easy to get ourselves worked up into a state of upset, feel terribly powerless and depressed. Then get distracted. Come back to more news, repeat cycle.

What’s missing from this cycle is positive action. There are things we CAN do.

Whether it is signing petitions, writing to governments, educating ourselves, ordonating money to charities on the ground, each positive action can help us feel back in control.

5. Connect.

Bad news leaves us feeling disconnected and wanting to escape a big crazy world. Reaching out and have genuine connection with other humans reminds of us what is right with the world, and what matters.

Smile at a stranger, help someone, call a friend you’ve lost touch with.

Can therapy help if current events are stressing me out?

It’s a particularly good idea to consider seeking support if you already had anxiety or depression before the latest negative global news. It might be that headline bingeing is exacerbating it, but that that are many issues to look at, not just world events.

A therapist creates a safe space for you to share how overwhelmed you feel, to figure out if other factors are at play, and to find ways to recover a feeling of being balanced -- even if the world is far from it.

Time to stop letting anxiety run your life? Book a therapist now and start talking your way forward.

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