How to cope with troubling current events

By The Health News Team | April 6, 2023
Woman at home looking sad

In a recent 30-minute national newscast, topics covered included war, a school shooting, political unrest, global warming, the fentanyl crisis and extreme weather affecting people across the country. Social media threads often contain much of the same information.

So, it’s no surprise that more people are experiencing increased stress, anxiety and depression. In fact, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit source for information on national health issues, many people have experienced poor mental health in recent years. In February, more than 30% of adults in the U.S. reported having symptoms of anxiety and depression.

However, Paola Nieto-Aguayo, LCSW, interim lead of the Trauma and PTSD Intensive Outpatient Program at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, says there are ways we can manage how troubling news affects us. First, she says it’s important to regulate the amount of news we watch or read; and have in place distractions or self-care plans.

“Making a conscious decision to take a pause from social media or news shows can reduce negative thoughts, sadness, fear, anxiety and even support in grounding our nervous system,” Nieto-Aguayo says. “When you avoid negative news, you avoid activating your amygdala in the brain — known as our internal ‘smoke alarm’ — which can set off the fight or flight response, activating the sympathetic nervous system and causing a physical response, such as fast breathing and pounding chest.”

How to reduce anxiety created by current events

To further reduce negative responses to current events, Nieto-Aguayo recommends activities to activate the vagus nerve connected to the parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes your body. These activities can increase the sense of calmness and grounding in the body and include:

  • Diaphragmatic, or deep, breathing

  • Meditation

  • Pelvic floor — where we hold tension and emotions — relaxation exercises

  • Humming or singing

“There are several activities that can help you not only deal with the stresses related to current events, but also cope with any other issues that cause anxiety, sadness or fear,” Nieto-Aguayo says. “Some of my favorite include gratitude journaling; creating affirmations — such as ‘I am more than my fear, I am worthy of a good day, and I will give and receive kindness’ — and having self-compassionate thoughts, recognizing it’s OK to feel fear.”

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends the following additional coping strategies to manage anxiety and depression:

  • Eat well-balanced meals and snacks.

  • Limit alcohol and caffeine.

  • Get enough sleep.

  • Exercise daily.

  • Find things that make you laugh.

Nieto-Aguayo also suggests joining a team or group — book club, bowling team, bird watching group — to take your mind off the negative, focus on the positive and build social support. Listening to music or nature sounds can also evoke calmness and happiness.

How you can help others

What’s more, Nieto-Aguayo says it’s important to counter the overwhelming negativity we can be exposed to daily. “Become a voice for positive news — share positive news on your social page; create posts on grounding, deep breathing or simple stretches; or just repost that cute kitten video that made you smile,” she says.

Nieto-Aguayo suggests you also consider donating to causes important to you, volunteering or getting together with loved ones to impact others in a meaningful manner. “It’s important to know you are creating a change in your own community,” she says.

When to seek help

If these practices don’t seem to be lifting your mood or improving your outlook on life, Nieto-Aguayo says you should consider talking with a professional. This is especially true if you:

  • Notice you are becoming hypervigilant when going out, which might include watching your surroundings, looking for exits and checking the rearview mirror often while driving

  • Feel that you are unsafe when you leave your home

  • Show signs of hyperarousal, such as loud noises make you jump or duck

  • Find fear or sadness stops you from going out and engaging in activities you used to enjoy

  • Isolate because you feel the world is unsafe, therefore disconnecting from friends and family because they do not share the same view or understand your concerns

“Talk with your doctor if your fear or anxiety is affecting your daily activities or quality of life,” says Nieto-Aguayo. “A therapist or support group can provide professional support in addressing, reframing, and resolving negative feelings and thoughts.”

If you or a loved one is experiencing a severe mental health condition, learn how Sharp Mesa Vista can help.

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Paola Nieto-Aguayo


Paola Nieto-Aguayo, LCSW, is the interim lead of the Trauma and PTSD Intensive Outpatient Program at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital.

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