I was recently interviewed by Meredith Carroll for her article in Redbook, “My 6-Year-Old Is Obsessed with National Tragedies — and I Doubt She’s Alone,” which is based on the author’s experience that “it’s practically impossible to go outside, online, open a newspaper, or turn on the TV and not have to pick your jaw up off the floor over an international crisis, natural disaster, or a national tragedy.” The article specifically discusses how to talk to young children about tragedy or disaster in the news, especially in the context of recent events that have dominated the news cycle.
The gist of the article, and comments from me and another child psychiatrist, encouraged parents to try to limit exposure to the news, reassure children of their safety, identify their own feelings as a way to help children label and process their emotional responses, and talk together with children about ways that people can help each other.
The discussion and the article got me thinking about how adults respond to an onslaught of death and destruction in the news, especially adults who live with depression, anxiety, and histories of personal trauma. Bad news can trigger feelings of fear, sadness, hopelessness, and powerlessness. Finding the right balance between awareness/knowledge and the care and support of your mental health can be a challenge.
Following are four suggestions to establish the right balance:
- Manage your exposure to the news. With 24-hour news cycles and social media feeds endlessly scrolling on all of our devices, we can have constant input of news and commentary. Self-dosing is important; shut off the television, phone, and computer well before bed time, and resist the urge to check your Twitter feed or Facebook account when you first wake up. Give yourself time limits for how long you spend online or watching TV news.
- Load up on more positive, optimistic stories. You can Look for “good news” stories and talk about those with others. Spread those stories.
- Look for “helpers” — people who respond to bad events with kindness and generosity. This is advice that Mr. Rogers said his mother had given him when he was a child. In other words, look at bad news with a wide-angle lens that captures the goodness and generosity in people. This is an especially wonderful strategy with children, and it’s easy for them to understand.
- Build your own life with compassion for yourself and others. Participating in activities you enjoy and spending time with people you love are the best antidotes for bad news. Working to make positive change in the world and engaging with others to be a helper can feel good and bring more goodness into the world. When things are not in your control, keeping your brain and body grounded (through mindfulness) and creating your own life worth living are keys to resilience and to improving your sense of well-being.
You may not be able to control the world around you, but when bad news is the news of the day, you may be able to tune some of it out and strive to bring more goodness to your corner of the world.