You go on to your television or Instagram in hopes for some good entertainment and leisure break, only to be greeted with disturbing images/footage of:
The ensuing wars between Russia and Ukraine, Israel and Hamas…
The typhoons and floods hitting Southeast Asia shores, earthquakes shaking Afghanistan ground…
The migrant crisis afflicting Tunisia and Myanmar…
As we watch our screens or social media feeds flooding with news of various world catastrophes in the recent months, we may become hit with a flurry of difficult emotions and thoughts. In light of these tragedies, here are some ways that can help you cope when you find yourself catastrophizing over these catastrophes:
1. Tune in and show compassion to your difficult emotions and thoughts
Vicariously witnessing world disasters can activate a broad range of unwanted experiences, particularly an immense sense of uncertainty, anxiety, guilt, anger, confusion, hopelessness or gloom for humanity and the future, and a loss of control. When these difficult experiences arise, allow them to stay and allow yourself to feel the pain.
Understand that these are completely normal and expected responses that many others around are also likely to share, even if you are far removed from the actual situation.
2. Be intentional about how you consume the news
Remaining informed is important, but it is also just as crucial to give ourselves some breathing and mental space when the news starts to overwhelm us. This can be through limiting our access to news channels or social media accounts/posts (e.g., muting, unfollowing, imposing duration restrictions, turning off notifications, refraining from device usage altogether) or distributing our consumption into smaller portions across the day (e.g., reading 1 article per day, watching news three times per day for 30 mins).
Being intentional is also about choosing carefully which platform and what type of content we use to educate ourselves. Be mindful that given the nature of politics, major broadcasting channels or accounts may tend to paint a one-sided and incomplete picture of the situation at hand. It is also helpful to recognize when you may be consuming information that is based on subjective opinions/personal views. Such content can be highly polarized and emotionally charged and so it would be more beneficial to access educational videos that portray more balanced, objective accounts of the history and context.
3. Practise gratitude
Guilt, anger and frustration can arise because we may feel undeserving of living comfortably in significantly more stable, secure and peaceful environments, and/or perhaps we feel powerless and unable to put a stop to these senseless crises. But the reality is that stopping them is often beyond our control. However, we can still yield control over our experience of the situation. One way of doing this is by learning the skill of gratitude.
Being grateful is not to deny and dismiss the suffering and disadvantageous circumstances of those afflicted, or to suppress our grief for the innocent civilians – being grateful is about recasting these distressing experiences into something more positive and helpful for us. This can be done by reflecting on questions like:
(1) What lessons do these experiences bring for us? (e.g., I shall not take my peace, home and loved ones for granted)
(2) How can these lessons drive us to take action that are in line with our values? (e.g., I strive to help those in my community who may be less fortunate, and to spend more quality time with my loved ones)
4. Empower others by empowering yourself
With the lessons gleaned from reflecting on the crises, another way we can take control is by finding ways to engage actively and contribute in our own little ways to ameliorate the harsh impact on those directly affected.
These can include volunteering for vulnerable groups in the local community or international aid relief efforts like donation drives, being involved in advocacy and education work, interacting with affected communities etc.
5. Take the time and people you need to process
These catastrophes, as we continue to learn, are often the result of a very long history of many various competing and cumulative forces acting against or on one another. As such, it is natural to feel confused and overwhelmed as you try to untangle the complexity of these situations, which can be an effortful endeavour. Understand that it is important to give yourself all the time necessary to make sense of this, and that your thoughts and feelings about them are bound to change with time and knowledge.
It would be helpful to also reach out and share about your worries and struggles in wrapping your head around this complexity, especially with people you trust are credible, reliable, open-minded and empathetic, because these people are likely able to provide a safe and comfortable space for you to express your frustrations and learn more about these crises.
Written by Esis Quek, Assistant Psychologist
To meet with a professional psychologist or counsellor, call The Other Clinic at 8809 0659 or email us firstname.lastname@example.org.