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Hotline Roundup: Your Questions. Answered.    

Hotline Roundup: Your Questions. Answered.

We created The Local Optimist Hotline as a way to get to know you and hear about the issues you’re experiencing in real time. Even though we are all going through a lot of similar things, we still continue to feel alone. That’s why we created this Hotline series. It’s a place to see that other people are going through some of the same challenges you are, and to get real answers from a real person.

In each column, Meadow, our Mental Health Lead, will respond to questions she’s received from multiple individuals texts, not on one particular person, to help highlight the common threads running through many of our mental health issues. The language and names have all been changed to maintain the confidentiality of our users. 

If you have questions for the Hotline, make sure to send them to us here.

Art by FISK

This month, and particularly last week with our extended Hotline hours during the election, we heard an overwhelming amount of the same concern. Therefore, we are taking the time this month to truly dive deep into answering this one question to help alleviate as much of your stress and anxiety as we can.

I am feeling more anxious than normal. With nothing but negative headlines everyday, the pandemic, the economy, police brutality - I am feeling overwhelmed, powerless, and nonstop anxiety. What should I do?

With anxiety rates tripling in the past year, it’s no surprise that many of our conversations on the Hotline revolve around just that. Having anxiety myself, I feel particularly keen to help others mitigate their symptoms and teach them how anxiety has changed over this past year. 

The term Headline Stress Disorder was first coined by psychologist Dr. Steven Stosny. Like the name implies, it is a psychological disorder in which folks experience a high emotional response, particularly feelings of anxiety and stress, to endless news reports. 

That’s right, we now get to be anxious about the fact that just reading the news can make us anxious. Anxiety about anxiety? Please, no. 

Thankfully, since anxiety is so common, there have been ample amounts of research on how to mitigate it. And preliminary research has already been conducted specifically around combating Headline Stress Disorder. We compiled that information to help you mitigate 2020-related feelings of stress and anxiety. 

1. Notice your emotions and behaviors 

If you have a strong emotional reaction to a headline, sit with that feeling for a minute and allow yourself to feel through that experience. This can help us let go of an emotion quicker than if we repress it or distract ourselves from it. 

“Feelings are biologically transitory; they cannot last very long, unless you keep focused on them or fail to act on their motivations,” says Dr. Stosny. “If you focus on how you want to feel—valuable, empowered, connected—your brain will load into implicit memory other times you felt that way and is more likely to select behaviors conducive to how you want to feel.”

It’s also important to take note of your media habits and engage your critical thinking skills. Are you simply reading the headline of an article and drawing a conclusion? If so, it may be helpful to read the whole story to get more context and information. By questioning your information consumption habits in real time, you can be more objectively aware of how you process news.

2. Take a digital detox

It is okay to take a break from the news. You will still be an informed citizen, and you will also protect your mental energy.

News breaks will, of course, look different for everyone. Whether you choose to spend a day, a week, or a month away is up to you. The important part is that you step away and then return with a game plan of how to interact with the media. 

Allow yourself the chance to cope with your feelings and give yourself a chance to actually feel better before getting swept away in the endless information cycle once again. 

3. Maintain boundaries and balance

After you take a break from the news, set clear and intentional boundaries with your media consumption moving forward. Set Downtime on your phone to block media apps after an hour of usage a day. Or give yourself 30 minutes of news consumption in the morning each day. The amount of time isn’t as important as the act of establishing personal limits. 

In addition to setting a time limit, try to balance out negative news with positive news. Actively seek out positive stories. Start a group chat where you share them. Balancing the types of media we consume can help us keep up hope. 

4. Focus on what is in your control and get involved 

Our emotions are prolonged when we don’t act on their motivator. For example, if I am feeling upset by the news that anxiety rates are rising, I can act on that motivator to make a difference by donating to a mental health organization, learning more about anxiety, or researching how to become a mental health ally. 

Acting on your motivator and turning it into a productive action helps you regain control, process through your emotions, and get connected to your community (which also helps combat anxiety). 

5. Stay grounded

Routines that offer structure, such as morning routines, are a great way to orient yourself. So is the very literal act of staying grounded, with bare feet on real ground. Connecting to the Earth physically helps regulate cortisol (the stress hormone), reduces anxiety, improves sleep, and so much more

You don’t have to take your shoes and socks off, though. Checking in with friends, taking a proper lunch break, and journaling can also help in the same way. And if you’re not sure what staying grounded looks like for you, text us! We’re here to help you find out. 

Keep the conversation going by commenting on this story below. You can also connect with us about whatever’s on your mind by texting The Local Optimist Hotline at 310.299.9414.