Feeling overwhelmed by barrage of distressing news? Try doing good as an antidote


Photo: Volunteer work may help you feel better amid a barrage of distressing news.

"Ballistic Missile Threat Inbound To Hawaii. Seek Immediate Shelter. This Is Not A Drill," the emergency alert read. Although it was a false alarm sent out by mistake in mid-January, the missile warning seemed plausible in today’s anything-can-happen, extreme news environment.

“The sheer volume of stressful events occurring on a near-daily basis can make people feel pessimistic or fearful,” says Emanuel Maidenberg, a clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA.

Our need for information is natural, Maidenberg says. Overexposure to the news, however, can lead to something called “vicarious trauma,” a term introduced in 1990 to describe the experiences of therapists, rescue workers and medical professionals. The American Counseling Association describes vicarious trauma as a “state of tension and preoccupation with the stories and trauma experiences described by clients.”

Wildfires, mudslides, government shutdowns, school shootings, and more. The barrage of disturbing news can cause people to feel tense, sad, anxious or preoccupied.

While everyone has different methods for coping with the daily stresses of life, Maidenberg offers the following suggestions:

• What’s worked for you in the past? Increase leisure activities that you find pleasant, get more physical exercise and maintain a consistent sleep schedule, for example. The balance of self-care in light of the vicarious negative experience is crucial to give your mind and body time to digest and accommodate the upsetting news.

• When feeling overwhelmed, social support is important. Joining a book club, a social group or political action organization may provide much-needed validation, as an opportunity to express your emotions and get support from others.

• Gain a sense of control by doing good. For instance, attending a local rally, making a donation, or volunteering your time to help others can counteract feelings of helplessness.

• Limit your exposure to news coverage. Engage only at certain times of day or certain days of the week. It may be helpful to limit your sources of media information. For example, you may want to read an online newspaper but not scroll through Twitter.

“As we continue adapting to the ever-increasing speed of the news cycle,” Maidenberg says, “it’s important to take a moment to explore the impact it is having on how we feel, behave and think to better take care of ourselves.”