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Anxiety From the News: A Psychologist Explains How to Cope With It in 2020

Sarah Sloat of Inverse spoke with Dr. Lynn Bufka, clinical psychologist and senior director of practice research and policy at the American Psychological Association, about how to manage one’s own anxiety when the news cycle is especially stressful, the importance of remembering what’s realistic, and how to be mindful of one’s health when you’re afraid of getting sick.

Excerpts from the interview:

If people are already naturally anxious, can large news events exacerbate that?

One of the features of anxiety is that it’s a response to things that we see as a potential threat, a possible danger, or an unknown. Anxiety can be a normal reaction, and it’s actually kind of healthy for us to feel anxious in certain situations because it often motivates us to figure out how to respond and act in a way that will be beneficial.

The challenge is that if we start perceiving everything as threats — everything as an uncertainty — we can get stuck in the feeling of anxiousness and fear. So if someone is already more prone to being anxious, and they’re faced with an uncertain event or potential threat, the response will likely be that they’ll feel more anxious.

Because anxiety is linked to evaluating threats, can news events that are linked to health — like the coronavirus — act as a trigger for anxiety?

It depends on the situation and the person, but health can be a trigger for some individuals. Certain situations act as triggers for different individuals. So for somebody who is already somewhat anxious about health, to then learn health news that is a little harder to understand, a little harder to digest, and has lots of unknowns, then that would naturally be something that person would feel anxious about.

Are there examples of actionable ways that people can manage excessive worry when it comes to their health?

In the instance of viral diseases, we can all do what’s recommended: Regular hand-washing, staying home when we are sick, and encouraging our ill colleagues to stay home.

What’s helpful but challenging is figuring out what your realistic risk is in reference to a particular situation. Then it’s about feeling confident in the decision-making you have done. That’s hard. And if you’ve developed a cycle where you tend to respond to the potential for anxiety, that can become even more challenging. It requires some effort to learn a new way of thinking, which can enable you to accurately assess a situation, determine what’s realistic, and what is not possible.

Is it fair to say that outside sources can be the key to determining whether or not something is realistic, versus what your brain is telling you is realistic?

You hope to be able to retrain your brain to assess things realistically. But if you’ve got yourself in a pattern, where you tend to overemphasize the dangerous and potential bad outcomes, then it’s good to have an outside source that can give you the facts. That could be a health site that you trust, a healthcare professional, or even your best friend. It just needs to be a source that can provide you a little distance from your thinking.

Excerpted from “Anxiety from the news: A psychologist explains how to cope with it in 2020” in Inverse. Read the full interview.

Source: Inverse | Anxiety from the news: A psychologist explains how to cope with it in 2020, https://www.inverse.com/mind-body/anxiety-from-the-news | INVERSE © 2020 Bustle Digital Group

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