Coping with Distressing Current Events

Jan 7, 2021

By Joe Grasso, PhD

The disturbing events that unfolded at the United States Capitol on Wednesday have, understandably, left people across the country–and the world–shaken. Such turbulent or distressing news can impact our thoughts, our emotions, and our behaviors in subtle and dramatic ways. Unfortunately, these types of events are often reminders of how many circumstances and situations broadly affecting society and the world at large are outside of our full control. But the good news is that there is much within our control when it comes to how we respond to ourselves and others in the aftermath of distressing news. During challenging times like these, it’s important to take stock of how you’re doing, check in with loved ones, and take necessary steps to prioritize your emotional well-being. 

Common Reactions

Upsetting current events provoke a wide range of feelings such as sadness, shock, anxiety, fear, frustration, or even a sense of numbness. You may also notice bodily responses, such as fatigue, tension, and difficulty sleeping. And you might discover that your relationships are affected. For example, you may have trouble getting along with some people and feel disconnected from others. It’s important to remember that people respond to current events in a variety of ways, and whatever you are experiencing is likely a normal and valid reaction. But no matter your reaction, there are proven skills you can utilize to cope with the fallout from distressing news.

Try tapping into these five skills:

1. Be patient with yourself

There is no right or wrong way to feel. Be kind to yourself and remember that your feelings are normal and valid. And if you find yourself distracted or having difficulty performing at your best, show yourself some grace and compassion. Think about how you would respond to a loved one who is having a difficult time right now, and then consider how you can provide that same level of care and concern for yourself.

2. Connect with family, friends, and community 

Upsetting current events can leave people feeling isolated or disconnected. Remember that you’re not alone in your reactions and reach out to the people in your life who are most likely to offer support and empathy. You may also find comfort in providing support to others, as this can reduce feelings of helplessness and help you find connection with people who share similar reactions.

3. Develop a coping plan

To deal with overwhelming emotions, craft a coping plan by recalling the strategies you’ve successfully used in the past to provide comfort during difficult times. Think about the people you’ve reached out to, the activities you’ve engaged in, and the helpful things you’ve told yourself when you experienced strong distressing emotions. Examples include spending more time outdoors, practicing meditation or yoga, seeking out hopeful or inspiring news, taking a warm bath, calling a friend, or cooking your favorite meal. Consider which of your strategies are most feasible right now, and carve out time in your daily routine to prioritize them.

4. Be mindful of your media consumption

After consuming news or social media, take a moment to pause and reflect. Are you feeling better afterwards? Is the news or social media helping you take productive action? Is it giving you a healthier perspective on the issue? If the answer to these questions is “no,” then it may be helpful to take a break. That could mean decreasing the frequency or amount of time you spend on news and social media, and refining your information sources to outlets that offer straightforward facts. You can also give yourself a break by pivoting your attention to movies, TV shows, books, or music that help you feel more positive emotions. 

5. Take care of your body

Your mind and body are inextricably linked. How we care for our physical health has an enormous impact on mood, while stressful events and strong emotions also affect our bodies. Make sure to attend to your need for nutritious foods, physical activity, relaxing breaks in your day, socializing with loved ones, and a stable sleep schedule. Minimize your use of alcohol, caffeine, and other substances. 

If you find that the strategies mentioned here are insufficient to help you cope, consider seeking additional support. A licensed mental health professional can offer you useful resources, fresh perspectives, and hope.

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DISCLAIMER: The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Joe Grasso, PhD, is the Clinical Director of Partnerships at Lyra Health and a licensed clinical psychologist. Dr. Grasso consults with employers on mental health initiatives in the workplace and leads the development and delivery of Lyra’s educational content. He also specializes in developing, evaluating, and disseminating evidence-based behavioral health care programs.