Ease up on exposure to neg­a­tive events

Bad news is ev­ery­where. But don’t let it get you down, writes Linda Blair

The West Australian - - AGENDA -

De­spite nu­mer­ous stud­ies and spec­u­la­tions, sci­en­tists are still not clear ex­actly how stress af­fects us phys­i­cally and psy­cho­log­i­cally.

Some stress is ac­tu­ally a good thing, cre­at­ing a state of readi­ness and mo­ti­vat­ing us to act. But when lev­els are ex­ces­sive and un­pleas­ant, they in­hibit our abil­ity to per­form well or think clearly.

Work by Gary Evans and col­leagues at Cor­nell Univer­sity have shown that when in­di­vid­u­als are con­tin­u­ally ex­posed to un­pleas­ant en­vi­ron­men­tal stres­sors such as loud noises, over­crowd­ing, air pol­lu­tion and traf­fic con­ges­tion, they show in­creased lev­els of cor­ti­sol, in­creased blood pres­sure, el­e­vated lev­els of anx­i­ety and an in­creased vul­ner­a­bil­ity to de­pres­sion.

Our re­ac­tion to neg­a­tive stres­sors is even more in­tense when we be­lieve we have no con­trol over ei­ther their in­ten­sity or their fre­quency.

Stud­ies on an­i­mals have shown that when ex­posed to un­pre­dictable stres­sors, the an­i­mal will soon stop try­ing to es­cape and will in­stead ap­pear to “freeze” and give up.

How­ever, there’s an­other source of neg­a­tive stress that’s been largely over­looked.

Ev­ery day we hear about ter­ri­ble events hap­pen­ing, not to us, but to oth­ers — ter­ror­ist at­tacks, car crashes, hur­ri­canes and earth­quakes.

Th­ese events, even though they haven’t dam­aged us di­rectly, make us feel anx­ious, dis­tracted and most of all, help­less. We think about the in­di­vid­u­als caught up in the tragedy, even though we don’t know them.

What can you do, for your­self and for oth­ers, in the face of so much dis­tress­ing in­for­ma­tion?

Take con­trol of your exposure to neg­a­tive in­for­ma­tion. Rather than turn­ing on the news on wak­ing and stay­ing tuned in all day, de­cide the night be­fore when you’ll pay at­ten­tion to broad­casts and for how long. Th­ese de­ci­sions alone will help you feel less help­less.

Avoid per­son­al­is­ing.

Lis­ten to the news when you’re likely to feel most rested and pos­i­tive — and, para­dox­i­cally, when you can pay full at­ten­tion. If you’re fo­cused rather than dis­tracted, you’re more likely to re­act calmly and log­i­cally.

Avoid per­son­al­is­ing. Imag­in­ing the pain oth­ers are feel­ing won’t help them. In­stead, think about what you might do to al­le­vi­ate their suf­fer­ing, how­ever small — by mak­ing a do­na­tion to a rel­e­vant char­ity, for ex­am­ple.

Fi­nally, re­solve to make a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence to some­thing or some­one ev­ery day. Small kind­nesses such as tak­ing time to talk to a lonely neighbour or thank­ing some­one who has helped you guar­an­tees you’ll make the world a bet­ter place, for at least one other per­son.

Linda Blair is a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist

Pic­ture: Getty

The sight of po­lice on ter­ror alert can be dis­tress­ing.

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