The world is a scary place right now, that is undeniable. What doesn’t help this are the endless news stories that predict the end of the world and cast a shadow of doom upon us all. They hold us hostage; constantly refreshing for the latest update, fearful and worried. And once we walk away? The stories play in your head. Maybe you decide not to attend a concert, or walk a different way home or simply hug your dog a little tighter and you’re not quite sure what you were afraid of, you just know you were afraid. Believe it or not, this is a real phobia. Fear of the news is something that affects hundreds of young people all across the country. I know it sounds silly but I promise it is anything but.
I won’t explain the story that affected me as I do not want to worry anyone else but, in essence, I saw a broadcast late one Thursday night as I rushed out to my volunteering. I remember hearing the words and freezing. For some reason that I couldn’t identify I was glued to the spot. I could feel my heart-rate increasing, my pulse bursting through my fingertips. My palms were sweaty and I couldn’t quite catch my breath. Yet I still couldn’t force myself to move. I was literally paralysed by this presenters’ words of absolute terror.
All of these are symptoms of an anxiety attack. Induced by the news. Silly right? Wrong. I had worked myself into such a state that I physically felt unwell. I couldn’t sleep because I was convinced that this tragedy was going to occur. I couldn’t eat because I didn’t see the purpose. I just didn’t want to do anything. It even triggered my suicidal thoughts. I didn’t want to see all these horrible things occurring, I didn’t want to (selfishly) suffer through them and I didn’t want to witness others in pain. I also felt guilty for not being able to help (even though the Prime Minister would have no interest on hearing my opinion). All because of one news story. Now, to be honest it wasn’t the news story alone. I suffer with mental illness and events like that encourage my already ‘broken’ brain to hit the PANIC button. And it wasn’t just that week, or that month. For almost five months I went about my life that little bit more on edge, that little bit easier to snap and a lot more afraid. The funny thing is, I wasn’t afraid of the event itself I was afraid of not being in control. I think that’s a big part of where our fear of the media develops. We watch all these horrible situations unfold and we hear of terrible things to come, knowing fine well we cannot stop it or control it. That is a scary prospect. To be told something is going to occur that you have absolutely no power over is terrifying. It’s hard to sit back passively and watch the world implode around you. For those of us who suffer with any form of mental health and already feel at the mercy of our brains, the idea of not being able to plan for the future or control our own safety is a whole other world of sheer terror. It genuinely encompasses you and lingers like a shadow, every single day. This escalated slowly into a fear of anything I viewed as “bad”. Even conspiracy theories that had no real truth to them began to take over my life. Then it manifested into health concerns. I wasn’t functioning like a normal person (I know now because of all this anxiety) so I must be dying of the latest disease. I know it sounds overdramatic and I feel ridiculous writing this but it felt so incredibly real at the time.
A year on and the news stories have changed. The big scary thing never happened but now we’re being informed of an even bigger and even scarier thing. I wish I could say that this time I told myself “You can’t control the outcome so don’t stress” or “It didn’t happen last time so it won’t happen now.” As true as these statements are, they do little to calm a brain that is about to explode from anxiety. Instead, here are some things I try to do when the media is a terrifying thing and the world seems hopelessly dark.
· Limit your exposure to social media, or at least the news. I had to have notifications on for my Higher Modern Studies exam but I edited my settings so it was only relevant information I received. Otherwise, I stopped checking. I know that may come across as ignorant but when it gives you anxiety that impairs your daily functioning, it’s necessary.
· If you can’t cut it completely, set a time. Give yourself a set time, once a day, to check what’s happening. If you can’t handle the “serious” events that are normally headline news, start with meaningless pages like Fashion and work your way up.
· Focus on your hobbies. Keeping yourself busy will always, always be the best distraction. It can be hard to turn the worries of the news off in your head so doing something you truly enjoy, or that requires focus is fantastic!
· You can stop it. Not necessarily the anxiety etc, but you can stop the news. You always have the ability to walk away. Again, this sounds like ostrich in the sand advice but if you are feeling totally overwhelmed it is okay not to want to know. You can always find out at a later date and if it really was important (or the tragic event you imagined) you’d find out anyway. Somehow.
· If someone is telling you a story you’re uncomfortable with, walk away. It isn’t rude to distance yourself from something that acts as a trigger for your anxiety and that you know will negatively impact your wellbeing.
· Try an electronic free day. These are often good for many reasons, but one is that you are not constantly consumed by all that is going on in the world. Take the day out to see your friends, spend time with your family or do some schoolwork.
· Relax the best you can. Remember the media need to attract viewers. The best way to do this? Scare us. Frighten us into wanting more. Although the situations are often tense and tragic and terrifying, they are never quite as bad as the media would suggest, or as your brain would like you to believe!!
Teenagers With Experience is an organisation created to provide teenagers worldwide with an online platform to share their own experiences to be able to help, inform and educate others on a variety of different topics. We aim to provide a safe space to all young people. You can contact us via email, social media or our contact form found on our home page.