How To Cope With Anxiety When World News Feels Scary

Current world events can feel really scary. You may be focusing on worst-case scenarios, feeling like you need to know everything about what’s happening and noticing an increase in physical anxiety symptoms. Here are some ideas to try that can help you feel calmer and more in control.

1. Set a limit on what news you’re consuming

– Stick to reputable sources that are giving facts, not opinions on what could happen

– Try only checking a couple of times a day for a few minutes

– Notice if you’re getting sucked into doomscrolling and do something relaxing instead

– It’s OK if you need to avoid the news altogether, it doesn’t make you selfish

2. Take action

– Doing something to help other people can lower anxiety by giving a sense of purpose

– Some ideas are volunteering, signing petitions, donating and raising awareness through craftivism. These could be related to what’s currently happening or another cause that you care about.

– Remember to take care of yourself and that you can’t do everything.

3. Talk about your feelings

– It’s normal to feel anxious about what’s happening, lots of people are feeling the same.

– Opening up and sharing your feelings can help you feel less alone and bring anxiety levels down.

– If there’s no-one you can immediately talk to, try writing your thoughts down to get them out of your head

4. Do something else

– Try activities that have nothing to do with what’s in the news – read, watch a familiar film, go for a walk, listen to music, draw, bake a cake, whatever you find comforting

– If you’re feeling panicky, try some grounding techniques (I have an example here)

I hope you find some of this helpful. My thoughts are with you if you’re directly affected by what’s happening.

A “Handy” Grounding Technique

Grounding techniques can be used to bring you back to the present moment, and can be really helpful for anxiety, panic attacks and PTSD to calm down your body’s fight/flight response.

My favourite grounding technique is known as the 5-4-3-2-1 technique which uses your senses to bring you back into the present. It’s easy to remember by counting on your fingers. It doesn’t matter which order you do the steps in, so don’t worry if you end up doing the senses in a different order to this. I’ve also given some ideas for adapting the exercise.

Hand showing 5 fingers

Five things you can see

These can be anything – a bird, a carrier bag, a paving stone. Try to really notice what they look like and describe them to yourself.

Hand showing 4 fingers

Four things you can hear:

What can you hear at this moment? Maybe you can hear a bird, a car driving past, music playing nearby. Are they loud or quiet, high or low pitched? Try not to make any judgements about the noises, just notice them.

Hand showing 3 fingers

Three things you can touch:

These could be your clothes, the chair you’re sitting on, your arm, a TV remote – anything near you. Try to really notice the textures.

Hand showing 2 fingers

Two things you can smell:

If there’s nothing you can smell in your immediate surroundings, do you have any food or toiletries nearby that you enjoy and can use for this step? If there’s nothing available, try naming two smells that you like.

Hand showing 1 finger

One thing you can taste:

This can be tricky in the moment as you might have an unpleasant taste in your mouth when you’re feeling panicky. Do you have any mints or sweets nearby that you can suck? If there’s nothing suitable around, try naming one thing you like the taste of. You could also replace this step by thinking of one thing that you like about yourself.

It’s a good idea to practice this grounding technique when you’re feeling OK, so you’re used to doing it when you really need it. You could also adapt it to use the finger counting but not the senses – how about five places starting with the letter S, four of your favourite films, three types of birds and so on?

The Stress Bucket Model

Sometimes it can feel really difficult to untangle what is stressful in our lives, and what we can do about it. Have you ever felt that you were coping with stressful circumstances then little things tip you over the edge? The stress bucket model (Brabban & Turkington, 2002) shows what’s happening.

We all have stress in our life, in fact some stress can be good to motivate ourselves. Some stressors may be completely out of our control, for example illness or world events. Some may be from our relationships, saying yes when we really want to say no, people expecting more than we feel able to give, lack of boundaries. Some may come from our jobs – not being happy, difficult commute, long hours, demanding bosses, lack of fulfilment.

The stress bucket (excuse my very basic drawing skills!) shows these stressors filling up the bucket in differing amounts. We may be able to cope with a stressful job, but it takes up most of our bucket. We may then have a power cut, and not being able to watch Netflix may make the bucket overflow so we “snap”. We may have lots of areas of our lives causing us stress so we can’t tell what is stressing us most and what we can do about any of it. This can mean our bucket feels like it’s always overflowing and we can’t stop it.

Why not try drawing your own stress bucket to see what’s going on for you? It can sometimes be clearer on paper than going round and round in our heads.

Now imagine your bucket has a tap on it. Activities that lessen our stress levels will open the tap and lower the water in our bucket, allowing us to cope better with stressful issues, large and small. Here are some ideas to open the tap:

  • Sleep
  • Exercise
  • Talking to someone
  • Journaling
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Creative activities
  • Time with friends

What could you add? Not all activities work for everyone, it’s worth taking some time to try out what works for you, especially when there is still some space left in your stress bucket. It can be really useful to work on making them into a habit so they can lower your base level of stress and be easier to use when you really need them.

Reference: Brabban, A. & Turkington, D. (2002). The search for meaning: detecting congruence between life events, underlying schema and psychotic symptoms. In A. P. Morrison (ed.), A Casebook of Cognitive Therapy for Psychosis (Chapter 5, pp. 59–75). New York: Brunner‐Routledge.