Amid COVID-19, politics and the US Capitol breach, how to cope with the stress of the news

Five ways to cope and practice self-care amid a stressful news cycle.

January 7, 2021, 10:33 AM

From the deadliest day in the United States since the COVID-19 pandemic began to the mob of violent pro-Trump protesters that stormed the U.S. Capitol building, the news on Wednesday alone was almost too much to bear.

It piled on top of a seemingly never-ending drumbeat of grim news that has taken us through the nearly yearlong coronavirus pandemic, a tense election season and ongoing racial unrest across the country.

The news has constantly played out live on our TVs, phones and tablets.

PHOTO: Supporters of President Donald Trump climb on walls at the U.S. Capitol during a protest against the certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results by Congress, in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021.
Supporters of President Donald Trump climb on walls at the U.S. Capitol during a protest against the certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results by Congress, in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021.
Jim Urquhart/Reuters

"Many communities and families have felt besieged the past four years and then we had COVID-19 and then watching these images," Dr. Janet Taylor, a psychiatrist, said Thursday on "Good Morning America." "But it’s important to understand that we all have the capacity to bring ourselves into balance, especially in times of stress."

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the news, here are five expert-recommended steps you can take to balance staying informed with self-care.

1. Don't tune out, set limits on how much news you consume

Tuning out the news completely is not the best solution, experts say.

Research shows that if you say you won't think about a topic like politics, all you will think about is politics, Dr. Mark Seery, a researcher on stress and coping at the University at Buffalo, told "GMA" in 2018.

He recommends instead taking control of the amount of news you watch, read and discuss. Self-regulating the news you consume also gives you a sense of control, which decreases anxiety.

Take action by setting time limits on your phone for certain websites and apps. Set other small goals like allowing yourself to watch one news show a day -- that will lead to your larger goal of controlled consumption.

Stress can also be reduced by putting the news into perspective.

When you crunch the numbers, the likelihood of being a victim of domestic terrorism is about as low as your odds of winning the lottery, Dr. Maria Haberfeld, professor of police science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, also told "GMA."

"Increase your awareness of the situation but decrease your overreaction," Haberfeld said. "Life is dangerous but you cannot lock yourself in your home and you cannot stop going to work."

Take action by customizing your response to the news. Figure out what you need to know and what you need to be aware of in the context of your daily life.

2. Get involved

Uncertainty can be paralyzing, so taking control of your own actions is an easy way to reduce stress, according to Seery.

If you are frustrated by politics, get involved in a campaign, volunteer to register voters and go vote yourself.

Take action on an even more personal level by making conscious decisions about how you spend your time and the things you say.

"Focus on what you can say around your house, at work and with your kids," said Seery. "Discovering that you can control things in your own life leads to better coping mechanisms."

3. Get moving

Moving your body diminishes overall anxiety levels, according to Dr. Gail Saltz, associate professor of psychiatry at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine.

Going for a walk, taking an exercise class or going for a jog a few times a week can help calm your body, said Saltz.

Saltz also recommends calmer activities like warm baths, breathing techniques and meditation.

Mentally, get your brain moving in a positive direction by staying rooted in the present.

Take action the next time you feel overwhelmed by identifying the things around you: what your coffee tastes like, the color of the mug, the friends, family or coworkers around you, etc.

4. Remember 'S.E.L.F'

S.E.L.F. stands for serenity, exercise, love and food.

The acronym was created by Kathleen Hall, founder and CEO of Mindful Living and The Stress Institute, as a way for her patients to stop in the moment and remember what they need to take care of themselves.

Hall recommends taking just five minutes a day to do something that will bring you serenity, from listening to music to taking deep breaths, just sitting still or memorizing a three to five word short phrase and repeating it as you slowly breathe in and out.

Overall healthy eating — particularly fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and whole grains — has been linked in studies that found they lower risk of depression and even suicide. Hall recommends eating foods like blueberries, broccoli and tomatoes and eating breakfast.

5. Read good news

Offset the daily news you consume with inspiring stories of kindness, bravery and humanitarianism around the world.

Here are just a few recent examples.

Doctor erases cancer patients' medical debt totaling $650,000

Try not to cry watching this Arkansas family surprise this woman with adoption papers

After he got out of prison, father created a hilarious daddy-son duo comedy act to connect with his family

Creative dad turns everyday items into at-home adventures

Dad surprises crowd with national anthem performance after sound system fails at basketball game

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. You can reach Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 (U.S.) or 877-330-6366 (Canada) and The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386.

Editor's note: This report was first published in 2018.

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