The media has always portrayed the world through a distorted lens, focusing on and exaggerating bad news, while ignoring or discounting the good. But before 24/7 rolling news and the rise of digital media, it used to be much easier to filter out all the scary, upsetting things happening around the world. Now, they are very hard to avoid – look at any news website, watch TV or check your Facebook feed and you are bombarded with stories that can make the world feel like a scary, dangerous place. It's easy to feel that we are under threat too, which is not helpful if you are prone to anxiety, as you probably over-perceive threats to your safety or wellbeing already.
Although we do face some really unpleasant and frightening threats right now, it's important to remember a few things:
1. We are living through the safest, least violent period in human history. Despite what the media might tell you, crime rates in the West have plummeted over the last 50 years. If we are lucky enough to live in a stable, Western democracy, we are actually extremely safe.
2. Although there have been a spate of truly awful terror attacks throughout Europe, this is not a new phenomenon. I grew up in London, which faced constant threats of attack and regular bombings by the IRA; other terror groups were active throughout Europe, so without downplaying how shocking and horrible the recent attacks have been, we have lived through similar problems before. And the probability of you being involved in a terror attack now is still extremely low.
3. Fear sells. The media have long known this and, sadly, some sections of the media – especially tabloid newspapers – have lost any semblance of caring about their readers' wellbeing, printing lies, mistruths and highly distorted versions of reality that make everything seem frightening and bleak. Just take their treatment of the refugee crisis as an example, or the blatant lies and fearmongering that persuaded so many people to vote for Brexit. 'Never let facts get in the way of a good story,' as the old journalists' joke goes.
4. If you are struggling with any kind of mental health problem – like stress, anxiety or depression – it might be good to take a news break for a couple of weeks. Reading upsetting stories, or watching violent movies/programmes is not good for your brain, as it will ramp up your feelings of insecurity, fearfulness and being under threat. Be kind to yourself and take a break – remember that just a couple of hundred years ago humans would mostly only get news about their extended family and local community, by word of mouth; no lurid headlines or minute-by-minute coverage of shocking events across the globe. Our brains are not designed for this media bombardment, and countless studies show the negative impact it has on our psychological health.
So, if you are having a hard time right now, treat yourself with care and either limit or give up your news intake completely for a while. And if you would like help with any kind of psychological problem, email firstname.lastname@example.org