A laptop screen open to a news site. An image of a fighter is visible on the screen.

Fighting Back Against a Bad-News World

Content Warning: Depictions of War, AHRC Survey

The world is a strange place at the moment. It feels like there is an endless torrent of bad news, stories of faraway wars, devastated cities and atrocities too complex to comprehend. As students we’re told to follow the news religiously; keep up to date with the real world so that we don’t get swallowed up in the theory of it all. Apply what we’ve learnt to what’s happening today. And sure, it feels pretty spectacular when you can smugly whip out the Security Dilemma as the dinnertime conversation turns to North Korea. But reading a chapter of Clausewitz’s On War curled up with a steaming mug of chai provokes a very different emotional response to the 24/7 news cycle on the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts.

Spend too long reading or watching the news and you’ll feel like the world is ending. Leaders become inhumane, situations become unsalvageable and helplessness comes crushing down on you. As a woman, the news at the moment can feel sickening. After the release of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report into sexual assault and harassment at Universities, all of my friends told me how tired they felt. We had raised our voices in a rallying cry, but hearing it all, every percentage and every story, cycling continuously through the news- we went into shutdown.

The statistics on young people struggling with depression and anxiety are alarming and, no doubt, the endless stream of bad news makes it harder to stay positive when you’re struggling. It fuels the helplessness that is a hallmark of feeling low. The more you read and think you’re gaining knowledge, the more you forget to ground yourself and end up floating amongst endless upsetting headlines. Here are my seven top tips for fighting back.

1. Breathe Deep

Okay this is an obvious one but I’m not sorry for including it – it’s so very important. We hear it all the time, from our counsellors and our friends, on Instagram feeds and even affixed to people’s walls (I’m a big advocate for living, loving and laughing as well). Taking even just ten seconds to focus on your breathing when you’re stressing out about the news will settle you down. You’ll cool that overheating brain, ground yourself in reality and, most importantly, watch that stress gently float away.

2. Take in what you read

The biggest issue when you’re spiralling into a bad news funk is that you’ve read endlessly without fully processing. It’s too easy to sit on the BBC News site for an hour reading every article without taking the time to process both what you’re reading and the implications of it. By the time you’re done, even one of those joke stories about a runaway sheep in Devon seems dire. Read in small chunks and take a moment for each article just to digest. The real knowledge will come from synthesising the facts – which will only be possible when your brain isn’t overworked.

3. Recognise your limitations

We are small fish in a vast ocean. Droplets in a puddle. What makes people most upset is the idea that they can do nothing – helplessness. We’ve all been there: having read one too many articles about a natural disaster far away, or children snatched by bombs, we resolve to drop this useless degree and train to be a doctor. Or give all of our money away to aid groups. When the world seems scary, remember who you are and where you are. You can only do so much. Therefore, be as effective as you can. Write to your local MP; give Malcolm a call; use your voice as passionately and as loudly as you can. Work within your limits and the endorphins will be just as great.

4. Send a message

We all get overwhelmed at some stage. Usually, it’s when you’re in the middle of a 3,000-word history report and you’ve just read an article about the hardships American women face getting access to Planned Parenthood. And then you snap. You eat a block of brie and cry on the phone to an unsuspecting friend or partner, nursing your belly because you’re lactose intolerant. This is not a sustainable way to release emotions (speaking from experience). Send the message when you start to feel it all building up, not when you’re incoherent. Talk to someone about what you’ve read and what’s concerning you. I can guarantee that having a big group discussion on how to solve the world’s problems will soothe your soul.

5. Switch off

I’m not an advocate for removing yourself entirely from the world or giving up. I’m talking about that little button on the right side of your phone (I acknowledge my clear iPhone bias). Press it; go on, I dare you. Switching off for even half an hour to do a bit of that breathing we talked about earlier can do you a world of good. If you’re not that ready to disengage from your phone’s warm cuddle, turn off the devil known as ‘push notifications’. Go to the news when you’re ready and able.

6. Read some good news

This may sound odd, but it’s easier than it looks. Good news can be literally anything: Kylie Jenner had a baby – great! Troy and Ashley from Married at First Sight might just make it work even though he chose that haircut – yay! One state leader said a nice thing about another state leader – smells like progress to me! Sure, these might sound irrelevant or trashy to the untrained ear, but they’re guaranteed to satisfy your cravings for something happy and remind you that life has to keep moving.

7. Change the world

Stay strong and save the planet, solve world peace, resist complacency – fight back against the bad news, one article at a time.