It would be an understatement to define the times in which we live as unprecedented.
The COVID-19 pandemic radically revolutionized everyone’s lives 18 months ago, normalizing to see grim data and the death toll on a daily basis. A general state of panic and terror spread around the world as graphic images of people who died from COVID-19 dominated news channels and newspapers.
Spring 2021 brought a dim light at the end of the tunnel that was as encouraging as it was short-lived. With several vaccines released months ahead of schedule and the United States becoming models of successful vaccination campaigns, humanity may finally breathe a sigh of relief.
But the brutal spread of the Delta variant this summer – followed by other more infectious mutations in the virus – has caused several countries to take two steps back and rethink their decisions to lift some security mandates. Without questioning the scientifically proven effectiveness of the available vaccines, even with the relatively low proportion of breakthrough cases, it is clear that we are not where we were promised to be just a few months ago.
Due to the utter uncertainty that continually characterizes this unforeseen situation, people experience deep discouragement and anxiety.
Besides this apparent regression of the COVID-19 pandemic, other types of tragedies are occurring all over the world.
This summer, Israel and Palestine saw further outbreaks of violence, while Afghanistan is now in Taliban hands, de facto reversing all progress made over the past two decades. And to top it off, heat waves, fires and other natural phenomena are tangible manifestations of the danger posed by climate change. And Eastern European countries like Hungary and Poland are witnessing the demise of democracy due to right-wing extremism.
These are just a few examples of the heartbreaking events that make up the 2021 story and hamper the possibility of a silver lining.
Due to the way the world is interconnected and how quickly news from anywhere is shared across various platforms, there is virtually no way to escape this constant stream of negative information. Additionally, we might believe that it is our responsibility as citizens to be aware of what is going on around us to form our own opinions and advocate for change if necessary.
Even though these painful events do not directly affect us, hearing about them can still harm our mental health.
The negative news affects the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for releasing stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Therefore, when we watch accounts of sad events, we may suffer from high levels of anxiety to the point of experiencing physical symptoms or even depressive episodes.
If this consumption becomes more and more frequent, individuals can easily adapt a pessimistic state of mind and develop what some researchers have defined as “the syndrome of the middle world”. The latter makes people believe that they are constantly in danger and that there is always something to fear.
The answer to this complicated ambivalence about our relationship with negative reporting is simply moderation.
For example, complying with the new COVID-19 guidelines is not only our duty, but also a useful resource for taking care of our health and our loved ones. To maintain similar habits below anxiety levels, psychologist Annie Miller is cited in VeryWell Mind item by saying that people can schedule a designated “worry time” to catch up with the world and not cross the healthy limit of consciousness.
Another helpful tip is to control yourself before delving into painful pictures or paragraphs. We should learn to always prioritize our well-being over that desperate urge to consume media, which usually causes more harm than good.
Especially when it comes to stories that thankfully won’t impact our lives in the short term, I think it’s our right to reasonably walk away from them. It’s not for us to empathize with a heartbreak that we might never even come close to understanding. Instead, we should use our remoteness to promote constructive – and lucid – support.
With that said, I’m now going to pick up my phone, avoid scrolling through Apple’s constantly updated news headlines, and immediately turn off all notifications from the various newspaper apps I recently downloaded. I can finally breathe.