Mindful ways to deal with news

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the news? 

Today I experienced immense sadness as I read of the children killed in the conflict between Israel and Palestine, the COVID crisis in India, military brutality in Myanmar, conflict in Ethiopia and more. 

When the suffering of the world feels so large and relentless, how can we respond mindfully?

1/ Allow yourself to feel your feelings. 

The news often provokes feelings in me of grief, despair, anger and helplessness, which I feel in my body as shallow breathing and aching in my chest.

In one way, these kind of feelings can be seen as positive. They show we have not become numb or desensitised to others’ pain. 

From a mindfulness perspective, it’s important we honour our feelings and don’t try to push them away, deny or block them. Trying to avoid our feelings can cause them to manifest in other ways such as outbursts of anger, depression, fatigue or even physical ailments. 

When you hear something sad, allow yourself to be touched, take a moment to pause, breathe and feel your compassion for others. 

Do whatever it takes to express yourself – this could mean crying if you need to, moving the energy through a practice such as dance or yoga, speaking to a counsellor or expressing your feelings in a journal. Appreciate yourself as the compassionate, caring person you are and view your feelings as important and valid. 

2/ Spread kindness in your community 

Last night I watched a documentary called The World’s Loneliest Elephant, about how Cher and the charity Four Paws saved an elephant who lived alone in cramped conditions in a Pakistani Zoo for 30 years. Kavaan is now living happily in a sanctuary in Cambodia. It was a deeply moving documentary which showed all the effort, care and logistics that went into saving a single animal. 

We may not be able to solve all the problems of the world, but we can all make a difference in our own communities. You may not go as far as moving an elephant, but maybe it’s reaching out to someone you know is lonely or being friendly to a shop assistant or delivery man. These acts of kindness may seem insignificant in the face of the world’s problems, but they have a ripple effect. When you’re kind to someone they tend to be kinder to someone else and we gradually reduce the amount of suffering in the world. I’m reminded of the Starfish Story by Loren Eisley.

3/ Do what you can 

I find hearing about violent and troubling world events often brings up feelings of powerlessness in the face of so much pain. It’s worth remembering that our feelings are the body’s signal that something is wrong and we need to take action. 

When you are deeply touched by an issue, take action to make change – no matter how small. This can look like donating to a charity, taking part in a demonstration, signing a petition or writing a letter to your MP. 

Our personal choices can also reflect our values – things such as choosing to buy fairtrade food, become vegan, recycle, boycott certain companies or avoid products such a palm oil can also give us a sense of empowerment. 

It can help to focus on one or two causes that mean a lot to you rather than try to take on all the problems of the world. 

As small and insignificant as these actions may seem, remember you have a voice and you can use it to make a difference in the world. All change throughout history came from the acts of individuals. 

4/ Limit the news you consume  

You may feel it is important to stay informed, but relentless barrages of negative news can affect our mental health or even desensitise us to suffering. Every time we read or see something disturbing our bodies register danger and our nervous systems react by flooding us with fight/ flight hormones. This puts the body in a state of stress which can have a knock-on effect on our physical and mental health.

Set limits on the amount of news you consume each day and if you are finding the news overwhelming take a break for a while.  I believe that if something truly important happens in the world, I’ll hear about it one way or another. 

5/ Look after yourself 

The news can provoke feelings of guilt in me that I’m OK while others are suffering. Sometimes the world can seem like a baffling and unfair place. I think it’s important to remember that we cannot solve all the problems of the world on our own. Our brains are problem solving machines and can obsessively focus on trying to come up with solutions, but if countless diplomats, historians and policy experts can’t solve the problems of the world, then how can we?

It’s not selfish to care for yourself and look after your own mental and physical health. We can’t help others by being drained, stressed and exhausted. Ultimately if you burnout, you won’t be much use to others around you. 

By looking after ourselves we have the strength, energy and drive to look after others and spread more love in the world. Allow yourself to take a deep breath and do whatever it takes to resource yourself. 

6/ Be grateful 

For all of us, time on this planet is limited and we have no idea what the future holds. The pandemic made that reality clearer than ever. Appreciate gifts such as having a home, peace and relative safety, which we often take for granted. Be grateful for whatever you have, connect with your loved-ones, appreciate nature, spread kindness, stand up for what you believe is right, choose to live in the most beautiful way you can. You have one precious life, so live it to the full and make a difference. 

7/ Stay positive 

It’s always worth remembering that the vast majority of people are kind and helpful. I’ve had the experience of dropping my purse or keys before and someone immediately handing it back to me. If you fall over in the street people will rush to help you. 

There are a huge amount of charities, healthcare workers, helplines, volunteers, activists and NGOs doing amazing work to help people, animals and the environment. The world is not all bad. Focus on joy – not as a way to deny the pain in the world, but to balance it out.

Make a deliberate effort to notice the kind people, the people helping others in disasters, those doing good things, those who care. The fact that you’re reading this tells me you’re one of them – go out into the world and spread some love today.