One of my clients was telling me that no matter how good she feels, when she turns on the news, it makes her feel stressed, angry and helpless. She asked me whether she should just stop watching the news. This wasn’t the first time someone asked me this—it has been one of the most frequently asked questions by my clients since the US election.
In fact, studies by the American Psychological Association reveal that our current tumultuous political environment has contributed to the first statistically significant stress increase we have had in 10 years. Apparently, our growing obsession with media and social media has also contributed to our increase in stress.
While it’s understandable to blame the state of the world as causes for our stress, it’s disempowering when we do this. External factors may influence or contribute to our emotional reactions, but they don’t cause them. Ultimately, our response to them is what causes our stress.
Good and bad stress
The physiological responses are the same whether we experience “good” stress, known as eustress—such as when we fall in love or go on a fun adventure—or “bad” stress, known as distress—which takes place when something is translated as a threat in our minds. We receive a stimulus, then our mind determines our experience of it, based on its interpretation. This means that we can reframe our interpretation of the same event in our minds and change our experience of it.
We can transform our experience from one of distress to one of eustress anytime. It is within our power—but we need to hold ourselves accountable for our experience.
The Three Rs
Here’s how the “Three Rs” can help you turn a negative experience into a more positive one:
- Realize that you’re reacting negatively. Bringing awareness to your feelings is the first step to changing or letting it go. As with anything we would like to change, we need to first own it.
- Remember that it’s the same physiological response for eustress (“good” stress) or distress (“bad” stress). Which one would you like to choose?
- Reframe your experience. Replace your anxious or stressful reaction with a more positive one such as curiosity, amusement or excitement. For example, after noticing that something you heard on the news frustrated you; instead of continuing to focus on how ludicrous the statement seemed, allow yourself to reflect on what learning and growing will come out of it—individually and as a nation. Feel calmer.
We don’t need to choose between being informed and being calm. We need to counteract the troubling news and environment with what we can control—our minds. Remember, we reclaim our power when we realize that we are the ones responsible for our thoughts, responses, actions and reality. So, go ahead; watch the news with these tools and choose to feel better.