Bet­ter ways to deal with ter­ri­ble news

Daily Dispatch - - Ddaily - By LINDA BLAIR

DE­SPITE nu­mer­ous stud­ies and spec­u­la­tions, sci­en­tists are still not clear ex­actly how stress af­fects us, ei­ther phys­i­cally or 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 shows 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, earth­quakes. These events, even though they haven’t dam­aged us di­rectly, make us feel anx­ious, dis­tractible 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. ● 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, at least for one other per­son. — The Daily Tele­graph

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