How to Look After Your Mental Health When the News Feels Overwhelming

Do you have a smartphone? Regularly access news on the internet? Check-in often on your social media accounts like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.?

If you do, you are probably getting ample exposure to the news and media. If you grew up in the age before social media and internet you will remember that your sources for news were from newspapers, radio, and television. Don’t get me wrong, access to media has its benefits. But considering recent tragedies, it’s timely to talk about how to care for yourself during times of national and international tragedy, disaster or crisis.

The next time those horrific headlines have you feeling overwhelmed, consider these seven coping strategies.

Look at the bigger picture

Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle and social media, we’re constantly inundated with horrific headlines, painting vivid pictures of pandemics, death and destruction. But aside from offering “thoughts and prayers” and feeling helpless, what can we do?

If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed with bad news, try putting the story you’ve just read or the footage you’ve just watched into some form of context. Look for statistics and historical perspectives that help establish the big picture instead of focusing on the gruesome details of the moment.

In other words, there is often comfort to be found in establishing context. The goal is to find the balance between feeling informed and educated on the situation at hand while not becoming totally overwhelmed by it.

Identify ways you can help

Getting upset by reading the news will not change the world around us; change requires action. Use your strong emotional response to those headlines as motivation to explore means by which you can make a difference to those affected by catastrophe. Can you make a donation in the form of time, money, or resources? What kind of aid is needed—not just in the immediate response to the crisis, but in the long-term as well?

Keep in mind, helping can only be healthy once you realize you can’t rescue everyone who’s suffering. Even the most effective activists achieving the greatest change only do so by focusing on a specific issue. We can feel great relief and fortitude when we align our actions with our values in ways both big and small.

Identify ways you can help yourself

Developing and practicing compassionate emotional first-aid is an important part of self-care. When you have heard, watched or read distressing news, it’s easy to fall into a rabbit hole, follow the related links, read the incendiary comments and allow that distress to snowball until you feel physically sick. Alternatively, you could acknowledge this pattern, take a breath and invest your attention elsewhere. Try to lose yourself in a good book or call up that friend who always makes you feel warm and comfortable. Develop a habit of regular meditation, physical activity and journaling—documenting your feelings by putting pen to paper. It’s a valuable practice that allows us to see the structure of our thoughts and ultimately, edit our thinking—an integral part of shifting our perspectives. According to Buddha, “If your compassion doesn’t include yourself, it is incomplete.”

Check the facts

When we read a horrific news story online, we all too rarely stop to ask ourselves who’s doing the reporting. Is it a reputable and reliable news source? Can you fact-check it against other credible sources? We often have a knee-jerk reaction to share news that reaffirms our own hopes, fears and belief systems without cross-referencing them for accuracy. For the sake of your own mental health (not to mention the well-being those around you), it’s important to develop a critical eye when it comes to evaluating news sources—especially before you decide to contribute to their reach by sharing them on your social media channels. Remember: Truth is the story that emerges from joining the facts. The more facts you have, the closer you are to the truth of the matter.


It’s hard, but sometimes you’ve just got to step away from the smartphone. An important strategy in coping with bad news is to limit your exposure—and that often means disconnecting. It doesn’t mean you don’t care; it’s more about ensuring balance and giving yourself the opportunity to recharge. With the world in a state of uncertainty, gathering information is one way to feel in control. But overconsuming the news—especially bad news—may not be doing your mental state any favors. There’s still a great deal of kindness in the world, and you’re more likely to experience it in a meaningful way firsthand than you are through a screen.

Understand the difference between sympathy and empathy

While the two words are often incorrectly used interchangeably, the difference in their emotional impact is important. Empathy, as the ability to actually feel what another person is feeling — literally “walk a mile in their shoes” — goes beyond sympathy, a simple expression of concern for another person’s misfortune.

Caring for others in times of need is one of the unique and beautiful acts of being human. There are a variety of ways in which we can achieve this, and the ways we do this have a huge impact on the degree of social connection we experience. By understanding differences between empathy vs sympathy, we can more effectively respond to the struggles of others.

Look for the positive

When it feels as though a barrage of bad news can reach us all too easily, we sometimes need to make an effort to find positive news. This can help counteract news-related anxiety. While we may feel that it is our responsibility to understand what is going wrong in the world so that we can find a way to fix it, it is also very important to find out what is going well so that we feel motivated, hopeful, and uplifted.

Gratitude is a powerful way of finding balance in the midst of our own personal storms and of the bad news storms we often find ourselves in the midst of in recent days. By focusing our attention on feeling thankful for good news, it not only changes our perspective but also expands what we feel grateful for.

Taking steps to minimize stress during these difficult times is essential for both your physical and mental health. While watching the news can provide you with critical information about protecting yourself and others, taking in too much information can be overwhelming and detrimental to your mental health. Unfortunately, we can’t control what goes on in the world around us, but we can have some control over the way we react to it.


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