WHILE KNOWLEDGE IS POWER, TOO MUCH INFORMATION CAN LEAD TO PARALYZING ANXIETY.
Anxiety can be seen as the physical manifestation (rapid heart rate and sweaty palms) of the emotional response (thoughts and feelings) about an impending threat (public speaking, flying, or a pandemic).
Anxiety is future oriented. It involves focusing on the “what if” of a situation. Statements like “what if this happens” or “what if that happens” are tell-tale signs of anxiety. Traveling down the rabbit hole of a “what if” is an attempt at gathering as much information about possible outcomes so we feel a sense of control over the uncontrollable.
Given the uncertainty of our current situation, life feels extremely uncontrollable and, as hard as we may try, no one knows the outcome. Two common ways of dealing with this uncertainty are watching/listening to hours of 24/7 “news” and surfing the internet, including scrolling through our social media feeds. Unfortunately, both of these methods create more anxiety then alleviating it.
UNHEALTY WAYS TO COPE
The reason watching/listening to the 24/7 news is anxiety producing is the fact that most of it is not news. News, by design, is a report about factual events. Historically, a news report was a recap of what had actually occurred. For example, a reporter might say, “A 5 alarm fire gutted the house on the corner of Main Street, no injuries reported”. Since the invention of cable news and similar dedicated programming, “news” has changed out of a necessity to fill the time. What “news” has become is often speculation about why events happened, how can we prevent the events from happening again, who is responsible for the events happening. While each “news” outlet does its best to offer expect opinions, they are just opinions. Just as this article is my general professional opinion, it is still my opinion. Unfortunately, our psyche is so desperate for control over all this anxiety, we get sucked into watching/listening for hours on end. We keep hoping that it will give us answers and make us feel better, but it never does. It only makes us feel worse and more paralyzed with anxiety.
The same is true for surfing the internet and scrolling our social media feeds. We “read” articles in hopes that we can make sense of the concerns within our lives. We read and read, scroll and scroll, research and research, hoping to find some new and comforting information, but that rarely happens. Instead, we often feel more anxious. Our psyche has become so inundated with information that it becomes difficult to process this rapid fire of information to determine what is new information, if any, versus what is repetitive information. We read the same story on multiple platforms and our psyche struggles to discern whether or not that is the same information, or brand new information. We begin to feel so overwhelmed and anxious. For example, you find an article discussing the 5 coronavirus cases in your area. Then 15 friends post the same article. Then 10 different news outlets post the same article. Before you know it, your psyche might easily, and justifiably, perceive that there are 125 cases in your area. If you continue searching the Internet, hour after hour, day after day, the impact to your psyche is exponential. Thus, you feel overwhelmed, anxious, and eventually panicked.
HEALTHY WAYS TO COPE
So, how do you handle all this uncertainty? Here are some suggestions: stop watching/listening to the news; put down the phone/internet; avoid doing your own research. Pick 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening to watch your preferred news outlet, scroll through your phone/internet.
The rest of time, live your life. Of course, keep your social distance and follow shelter in place orders.
Do things that give you a sense of control and allow you to breathe in the moment:
- Yoga and meditation;
- Clean your closet or refrigerator;
- Organize your pantry or catch all drawer;
- Play games or work on puzzles with your family; and
- Assist a local charity.
If you want to find out what friends are doing, call them, email them, text them. Attempt an intimate discussion with one person at a time. It is very rewarding.
Breathe and acknowledge that, just for today, everything is fine. Worrying about the future does not change the future in any way.
If your anxiety still feels overwhelming, and is impacting your ability to function, set up an appointment with a mental health professional.
Emily J. Parodi MA LPC LMHC
National Board Certified Counselor
Disclaimer. The above article is general information only, and is not intended to be specific mental health advice for you, or any other person’s specific situation.