There's a lot of distressing news right now. Here's how to check in on your friends.

In an era of rapidly changing news cycles and our reliance on smartphones, it can feel like awful things are constantly happening around us. This week, with reports from the Israel-Hamas war and the anxiety around Australia's upcoming Voice referendum, we are not okay.

There is so much to process outside of simply managing our day-to-day lives that it feels overwhelming. And let's not forget that this week's terror attacks come relatively shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Australia's years of wild weather events – and who can forget the global pandemic?

So how are we supposed to 'keep calm and carry on' when confronted by one shocking news story after another? 

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Video via Headspace.

I like to stay informed of world news, but for my mental health, I need distractions – whether that is regular walks in nature to listen to the sounds of the birds and the trees, chats with my kids about their world or a coffee with a friend.

But how do I best help loved ones who feel overwhelmed by the excess of bad news they see while scrolling through social media?


Psychologist Carly Dober spoke to Mamamia about what exactly happens to us when we absorb upsetting content on our devices.

"When we see too much bad news, we might experience ongoing and persistent body tension and a rise in pulse rate, just before you check the news or refreshing your feed," Carly tells Mamamia.

"Then you have intrusive thoughts about the stories you read and are unable to think about much else. You might feel persistent anger, anxiety and sadness, and be drinking more in attempts to distract yourself. You might notice a reduced interest in activities outside the news, and feel hopeless about the future."

Carly says there are a few practical things can we do to help ourselves, as well as our friends and family, when the news is bad.

"To protect yourself and others from becoming too overwhelmed too often, and to prevent developing a sense of helplessness, consider time boundaries about news engagement. Would twice a week for 10 minutes be enough to get a sense of what’s occurring in the world, instead of daily doomscrolling?

"I also recommend turning off all notifications and adding tech-free periods to the day. Connect to family and friends, and try to discuss other issues.

"Move your body in ways that make you feel joy and get outside to connect to nature."


While connection and getting out in nature is great advice, Carly believes it pays to know when you or your loved one might need a little more help and professional intervention.

"If the constant news stories mean you can't function at your usual capacity, and engage in your regular routines and hobbies like you usually would, if your sleep and mood are being impacted, and you are engaging in unhelpful distraction activities like increased alcohol and drug use, this could be a sign that external help could be needed," she says.

"Perhaps friends might be withdrawn, self-isolating, more teary or more irritable than usual. Perhaps they are unable to talk about much else, are hopeless about the future, and are pessimistic that things can change or get better. They might be reporting a decreased or increased appetite, and taking time off work with no other stressors impacting them."

When and if this happens, Carly says you need to be there for your friend and help them validate their feelings.

"I think being compassionate and also honest is important. Validate to your friend that it can be really difficult seeing frequent news stories that centre on human suffering or the breakdown of the natural world, and feeling helpless and overwhelmed are very normal reactions.

"Reflect on what you’ve noticed in your friend, and share that there are tips and tools they can learn with qualified mental health professionals who can help them manage these reactions, and then they can also make tangible plans to engage in meaningful ways with impacted communities further, if that would be something they were interested in."


Carly says remembering to balance which sorts of news you see on your device is also really important. 

"Including positive news stories in your feed is really important because there are great things that occur every day and if everyone works towards balancing your consumption of news a little more, that will be very helpful."

Remember that your mental health and that of your friends is a valuable asset, and prioritising it during challenging news cycles is essential. By setting boundaries, practising self-care, and seeking support, you can better navigate difficult times and maintain your mental wellbeing.

If you require immediate assistance please call the Mental Health Line on 1800 011 511 or contact Lifeline Crisis Support on 13 11 14.

Carly Dober is a psychologist with a particular interest in the issues that affect the mental health and emotional wellbeing of young women. She is a Director at the Australian Association of Psychologists Incorporated (AAPi). Find out more about Carly on her website.

Feature Image: Getty.