Therapists are proving to be even more vital given the current news climate. But how do they take care of themselves?
It’s not dramatic to feel psychological effects from the negative headlines: Research shows that overexposure to tragic stories, like reports of war, terrorism or injustice, can have a harmful effect on a person’s emotional state. For mental health professionals, dealing with this phenomenon in their personal lives is just the first step. They also have to help clients navigate overwhelming feelings about the state of the world.
We asked mental health experts how they protect themselves from stress and burnout when the news cycle gets to them. While none of these will completely erase the stress and tension we feel living in the world right now, the advice may help lessen some of the effects ― at least for a little while. Below are some of the ways they cope:
1. Focus on what you can do.
“I discuss the issues with friends or trusted colleagues. I decide if there is any action I can take that meshes with other life and professional demands, and then ‘let go of it’ and move on to other activities or thoughts that might be productive or give joy.” ―Marcia Valenstein, professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan
2. Stay informed to the extent that feels right.
“My personal approach is to stay immersed in the news cycle, hoping for some shred of encouragement or at least consolation from hearing my views shared by others.” ―Susan Krauss Whitbourne, professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst
3. Watch something funny.
“Laughter works too, so staying tuned into ‘The Daily Show’ and ‘Saturday Night Live,’ provides great stress relief.” ―Susan Krauss Whitbourne
4. Work out your body and mind.
“I make it a point to exercise daily. I particularly like swimming after a stressful day, but do more physically strenuous spinning earlier in the day. I am also practicing mindfulness meditation which I love.” ―Sheila Marcus, professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan
“When I’m personally feeling stressed out by negative news or if there is anything stressful happening in my life, I exercise or go for a walk. Physical activity has been shown to lower stress and improve mental health, and it contributes to an overall sense of well-being.” ―Olivia Remes, Ph.D. Researcher at the University of Cambridge
5. Try a new hobby.
“Advocacy and volunteering, as well as some creative outlets like cooking and being with my family, are also great!” ―Sheila Marcus
6. Act, but take breaks.
“I try to maintain a balance among action, humor and respite, [which includes] more music, less constant news.” ―David Spiegel, director of the Center on Stress and Health at Stanford Health Care
7. Practice a simple breathing exercise.
“I put my feet flat on the floor, relax my shoulders, close my eyes, smile and take a long, slow deep breath. You can do this just about anywhere, and it always feels good.” ―Keith Humphreys, psychiatrist at Stanford Health Care and a professor of psychiatry and behavioral Sciences
8. Disconnect from your devices when it becomes too much.
“I find that when I unplug from everything (radio, TV, computer, phone, iPad) I feel much better. Sometimes it takes a day or two to detox (read: jittery, nervous, headaches), but after that I am generally calmer, less worried and feel an overall sense of decreased anxiety.” ―Stephanie Smith, licensed clinical psychologist
9. Cook a good meal.
“When I feel stressed or distressed by the negative, unhappy news and/or politics I go to the grocery store, buy food that I enjoy and I head home and make dinner. I can make what I want, what I like and how I like it to taste and that helps me feel better. It resolves the stress from the external world that can feel out of control and give it back to me in a way that I can control and enjoy.” ―Dan Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education
10. Hang with your pets.
“Finally, all of this is made even better at reducing my stress by spending time with my dogs. Pets can be incredibly calming and with their forever unconditional love, the rest of my stress melts away.” ―Dan Reidenberg