Relentless news updates have a way of inspiring near-constant dread. As distressing news continually shows up on our devices, it is common to feel more than a little nervous about the state of the world.
When a large-scale news event happens, people want to discuss it more widely and frequently. This constant conversation can create an avalanche of negative thoughts.
Why we catastrophize
Catastrophizing, or a pattern of thinking that jumps to the worst-case scenario, is an evolutionary response to a threat. The ability to consider how bad things could get and plan ahead has helped humans survive. However, it’s an ineffective way of trying to regain control. Jumping to worst-case scenarios breeds poor decision-making and can lead to a “who cares” attitude, which can contribute to hopelessness and despair. Sometimes catastrophic thoughts become self-fulfilling prophecies (e.g. fear of a toilet paper shortage caused one). Even when a problem isn’t based in reality, we think we need to fix it.
What we can do to help ourselves:
Accept uncertainty and trust people
We live in relatively safe times, despite recent tumultuousness. Because of our general feeling of security, we are less used to dealing with uncertainty. Accepting the unknown requires relinquishing control and trusting that most of the people in charge are working to solve the problems beyond our capacity. We use this strategy when we use public transit and airplanes, for example. We can also use it during the pandemic.
Stick to the facts
Anxiety makes us feel powerless. Powerlessness becomes fear that we won’t be able to handle the consequences of a terrible event. However, we tend to exaggerate the severity of the threat and underestimate our ability to cope. We almost always cope better than we think we will!
Instead of feeling powerless, evaluate what you know to be true in this moment — and don’t exaggerate — to help ground you. Think: I have people I love, I can still eat food that nourishes me, the sun still rises and sets.
Consider your responsibilities (to yourself, your loved ones, your community, your academics) and get started on the reality-based problems that you can solve today.
Avoid all-or-nothing thinking
Remember that this situation is nuanced. When news and facts are constantly changing, it can be easy to jump to conclusions and fill in unknowns. Avoid processing current events with black-and-white thinking. Events being canceled, for example, doesn’t mean we will never see our community again — it means our leaders care about our safety and are taking precautions. Give your anxiety a name – for example, “Dook.” If Dook says the world is going to end, Dook probably doesn’t know what they are talking about. A little rivalry humor can’t hurt, right?
Take care of yourself
Research has shown anxiety impacts our decision-making skills, and in times like these, you want to make the most informed decisions for yourself and those you love. Practice self-care to diminish stress and anxiety: physical movement, deep sleep and social interactions — even if it’s just a phone call or video chat — have all been shown to help. You may also want to step back from social media or have some technology-free times in your day.
Helping helps decrease despair and stress, while also giving a sense of purpose. Donate to or volunteer with an organization making positive contributions, whether locally, nationally or internationally. Anything you do to be proactive will help ward off powerlessness.
Perhaps most importantly, give yourself some grace.
You are doing the best you can in a situation that you did not want. We are all figuring out how to cope in this pandemic – you are not alone! Use strategies that have worked for you during difficult times in the past. Reach out to people you adore. Extend yourself some loving kindness. Remember, you have survived every hard thing the world has thrown your direction.
If you try these strategies and find you’re still struggling, CAPS 24/7 is available for UNC students at 919-966-3658. CAPS is also offering 2 digital support groups: a support group for UNC undergraduate seniors during COVID and a support group for any UNC student during COVID.
This article is based on Coping Tips provided in New York Times Smarter Living and adapted for UNC students.