How to protect your mental health from distressing, divisive war news


By AGENCY

The endless reading of negative news stories online is known as doomscrolling, and it can can leave a mark on your psyche. Photo: dpa

People weeping over dead bodies of family members, standing blood-besmirched beside destroyed homes, or fleeing the fighting in panic and bridled rage. On television, and especially social media, you can’t ignore the steady drumbeat of grim reports and gruesome images from the war in Ukraine and between Israel and Hamas.

They can leave a mark on your psyche, “so from a psychological standpoint you should take breaks from taking them in, particularly images,” advises Nathalie Krahe, a member of the Professional Association of German Psychologists (BDP), answering our questions.

To protect your psychological health, how should you deal with distressing things you read, hear or see about the wars?

When you see a post with horrible images, it’s not uncommon to look for further information, articles or posts. Since it may seem to beggar belief, you look for corroboration via more images and information. This endless reading of negative news stories online is known as doomscrolling.

Krahe suggests three solutions, the first being to abstain from viewing images and videos. For your psychological health’s sake, you shouldn’t follow up disturbing images or videos on social media with more of them, as they pack a greater emotional punch than written information does. If you find pictures too agitating, it’s better to seek out less graphic media. Sometimes mental images are enough – you don’t need actual ones. To restore your emotional calm, you can also switch to media with no images at all, such as podcasts or the radio.

The second solution that Krahe suggests is to engage with people close to you. This allows you to unburden yourself, share your emotions and learn how others cope with the horrors in the news.

A third solution is to question the motives of the people behind the content. If you follow certain groups on social media channels, you should always ask yourself in whose interest certain images are being circulated. Is it something you want to support? If not, you shouldn’t share it.

This doesn’t mean completely stopping your consumption of news and information though – after all, they’re important in helping you form opinions.

Sometimes people’s standpoints are irreconcilable. How should you handle this if it occurs in your family, intimate relationship, circle of friends or co-workers?

This is something we’re familiar with from the height of the coronavirus pandemic: Some people favoured vaccinations while others rejected them. But a different dynamic is in play now. Certain preferences and interests connected us with other people before we developed positions on the ongoing wars.

Here, too, Krahe proposes three possible solutions. Firstly, if you can’t reach agreement on the war in Ukraine and/or between Israel and Hamas, you can stick to less divisive topics – so long as the other person is also amenable to this.

Secondly, critically examining your standpoints could bring convergence. Many differences of opinion remain deadlocked less because of substance than reluctance by the parties to concede they were wrong.

You can ask the other person what the basis for their position is and how they arrived at it. Ask yourself the same. If the other person’s reasons aren’t flimsy – say, seeing five TikTok videos on the issue – you could consider whether you, too, might have formed the same opinion.

A third thing to consider is whether unrelated matters are fuelling the disagreement. You may be under heavy stress in your family or at work, and vent pent-up frustration by staking out your position – on this war or that – with especial ferocity when the subject comes up.

If clashing standpoints on the war in the Middle East or eastern Europe escalate into heated arguments, what’s the best way to cool the passions?

There’s no golden rule here. If you repeatedly fail to find common ground, you can agree to disagree, and then set the matter aside. And you might say, “Our emotions got the better of us. Let’s take back all of our insults.”

And you need to realise that it’s immature to call someone stupid simply because their views on something are different from yours. It’s an I’ve-got-to-be-right mentality that prevents toleration of contrary standpoints. – dpa/Claudia Wittke-Gaida

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