A few weeks ago, as I was wrapping up my work for the day, I got a distressed call from my best friend. “Have you stocked up yet?” she asked. “Trump just announced a national emergency. All the stores are going to close!” I told her I had been slowly adding to my pantry, but she pleaded that it wasn’t enough. She was adamant that I had to stock up on groceries NOW. I knew she wasn’t acting rationally, and I told her so. I maintained my composure on our call, but by the time I got off, I felt anxious. Could she be right? I wondered. Not wanting to take any chances, I called my partner and explained that we needed to go grocery shopping immediately. Our plans to go to the park and cook dinner had to be put on hold. After disputing whether we were in panic mode, he agreed, and we were off to the store.
On our way to the store, my sister called and I quizzed her on the state of her kitchen: Did she have enough dry goods? Coffee? Toilet paper? She told me she’d go shopping tomorrow, but that wasn’t good enough for me. I demanded that she, too, drop whatever she was doing and go shopping. After I hung up, I realized that the same nervous energy that my friend passed onto me, I had passed onto my partner and my sister—all in a matter of minutes. This anxious energy was contagious. Reflecting on this chain of events, it amazes me that despite knowing deep down that the basis of my friend’s fear was incorrect, it still impacted me. What’s worse is in that moment of panic, I quickly spread my nervous energy to my loved ones.
I share my story because the chain reaction that I experienced is representative of the current climate of panic. We are consuming stressful news on the media available in one medium or another, which we then pass onto others compounded with our fear. We need to be responsible for how we consume the news, how we respond to the fear of other people, and how we contribute to the anxiety of others—especially during these turbulent times.
Here are a few strategies that we can apply to consume and spread news regarding the current state of affairs responsibly:
When Consuming News:
- Be curious about your intention before you check the news. Ask yourself: Is it coming from compulsion and fear or curiosity and a need to be informed?
- Decide how much information is necessary for you to make a responsible decision for yourself and others. You need some amount of information to make strategic plans for the well-being of yourself and others. After that point consuming more information will not contribute to smarter decision making and may only add to your stress level.
- Be selective about the source of your news: Not all sources of information are created equal. There are many sources out there merely fighting for your attention. Negative and extreme news that captures your attention but provide little reliable data must be avoided. Get your information from the government, medical, and research institutions. These sites are not driven by traffic to their sites. A few of the valid sites to look out for are, WHO, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Corona Virus Resource Center by research institutions like John Hopkins and Harvard.
- Turn off your news notification: To ensure that you can be intentional about your news consumption, you should consider turning off notifications.
- Label the emotion that comes up when you hear bad news: Ask yourself: Is this fear? Is this anger? Labeling these emotions will help you avoid letting the emotions consume your rational mind. When you contain the emotion, you create the space to begin reasoning with yourself.
- Do a cognitive appraisal: When we consume alarming news, our primitive brain naturally prepares our mind and body to protect ourselves and our loved ones. It then manifests in the form of stress and anxiety. The mind also does this by going into negative thought patterns and scans for worse case scenarios. When we are aware of how news affects us, we can then asses the validity of our thought patterns. Mindful exploration of our thoughts often reveals that they are usually not an accurate representation of reality.
- Interrupt Anxiety with Breath: We will inevitably have moments when the news triggers us. During these times, we can practice deep and slow breaths to communicate to our minds and body that we are not ramping up to fight or flee. On average, humans take 12-25 breaths per minute. When we are anxious, the number can go up to 30. We can interrupt this cycle by consciously slowing our breathing to 12 breaths per minute by inhaling for 4 secs and exhaling 8 secs, apart from communicating to your mind and body that there is safety to breathe leisurely. Slow breathing like this triggers your vagus nerve to produce “vagus stuff,” a substance that lowers your heart rate activates the parasympathetic nervous system and helps you calm down.
When Communicating the News to Others Ask Yourself:
- Why are you sharing? When it comes to social media, we tend to over-post. Take a moment to ask yourself, “why am I sharing this piece of information?” This can help you be sensitive and responsible for how your message affects your audience, whether close friends and family or more distant connections.
- Are you conveying panic with the information? Human emotion is exceptionally contagious. When we are panicked or stressed, we quickly communicate it to others. The collective panic only amplifies the feeling. Therefore, before communicating with others, we must address our emotions, for instance, by practicing deep breaths as described above. And often, we will find that when we calm our nerves, sharing the information might become altogether unnecessary.
As social beings, we experience emotions more fully when we share it with others. However, during uncertain times when we are feeling heightened fear, we must be responsible for both our own and others’ emotions. Now is a time when we are collectively fighting the same battle. People all over the world are striving for the same goals of safety, health, and well-being. During these times, if we all take responsibility for how we spread the news, we can help alleviate unnecessary stress.