Until relatively recently, we mostly became aware of world news only when we actively invited it in. We chose to buy a newspaper, or turn on the TV or radio news at certain times of the day. Most of the time people did not hear about world events as they unfolded.
Now we can hear news 24 hours a day, via the internet, mobile phones, radio and TV. It is increasingly hard to avoid a regular stream of headlines, and they are usually unpleasant. The more news and information we hear, the more we consider these stressful, horrific events and possible future catastrophes. National and global issues such as war, politics and climate change are often mentioned alongside personal issues like health, money, relationships and work, as our most significant causes of stress.
It is important that we know what is going on, but not at the expense of our mental health and wellbeing. Exposure to what’s happening in the world can help us gain knowledge, empathy and the power to make a difference. However, to use this information to improve the lives of others, and our own, we need to manage our minds and automatic reactions to what we hear and see. If I am simply feeling depressed or outraged, and not taking any action, it doesn’t actually help stop war or climate change.
At the start of the Covid pandemic, I became rather addicted to hearing news, constantly hoping for some good news or something to give me hope that suffering would end. Once I realised that listening to so much news was not helping my state of mind, I limited how often I accessed news. I noticed I did not like sitting with uncertainty or not knowing what was going on, even if news updates just added to my stress. And now we have the uncertainty of all that is happening in Ukraine.
It is at times like these that mindfulness techniques can really help, and why I try and follow my morning news update with a meditation. As in all situations, bringing compassion to our experience helps us feel grounded and – ultimately – more able to help others. And cultivating compassion for those we feel annoyed with is also important, otherwise we end up being consumed with anger. But this is quite an advanced skill – maybe a topic for another article. For now, let’s start with looking after ourselves.
Things to do if you’re feeling buffeted by news or information (global or personal):
- Limit how much you hear and read, and also what times of day you expose yourself to news. I myself feel a need to catch up at the start and end of each day, but keep away from taking too much in during the day itself. I try not to spend more than about ten minutes reading news before I do my morning meditation; I aim to stop taking in any news after 9pm (but am less successful at this), but will always do a meditation or read about something else last thing at night before going to sleep. I just find it too upsetting at the moment to be immersed in it for too long. We are all different, so I suggest you just do what works for you.
- Allow your feelings to be here. Even if you keep yourself away from all news, events will always occur leading to difficult emotions – it is what makes us human. With the terrible news from Ukraine, I have feelings of horror, sadness, fear and powerlessness, plus guilt for engaging in personal worries or pleasures. Tara Brach, a wonderful meditation teacher, has a phrase: “Let the waves belong”. I.e. rather than resist or push away what we’re feeling (which just makes emotions stay around longer), it is less stressful if we can allow our feelings to be there, to come and go. To be mindful means acknowledging what emotions are present. You then have three choices:
- Stay with those feelings (explore your emotions with a friendly curiosity, such as where you’re feeling them in the body).
- Take your attention elsewhere (using the senses).
- Mindfully take an action to make a difference.
- Mindful breathing often helps if you’re feeling disturbed or anxious:
- Focus on sensations in your abdomen or chest as you breathe.
- Imagine you can send a kindly breath towards where you’re feeling stress (for me, it’s always my chest or jaw), perhaps placing your hand there too.
- Breathe out for longer than you breathe in (counting for 4 to breathe in, and 6 to breathe out).
- Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, as if blowing through a straw and making bubbles.
- Other grounding exercises using the senses, coming to the present rather than being swept away by thoughts and emotions
- Feel sensations in your feet or hands.
- Find something to really look at or feel: maybe a flower, part of your clothing, a cup or part of a table or chair – anything that you can take a moment to really explore, noticing colours, textures and shapes.
- Do some movement, noticing sensations in your body as you move. Could be just some arm swings, shaking your hands or arms, shoulder rolls.
- Take action
When we aim for acceptance in mindfulness training, we do not mean resignation or inaction. In many situations there are simple things we can do to help others as well as ourselves. I’ve included some links below connected to the Ukraine crisis and climate change, in case you’d like to do something but don’t know where to start. The sea is made up of drops of water, and even doing something tiny can make a difference.
- Balance your experience
In addition to any unpleasant feelings you might have about the world, see if you can take a moment to consider anything good, delightful or something you might take for granted. There are some wonderful websites for happy news, and these can give a little balance to everything else.
May there be peace and world stability.
Best wishes to you all,
The Ukraine Crisis
Do share your reflections in the comments below. Have you tried any of the techniques Catherine has shared? Let us know how you got on.