How to protect your mental health from doomscrolling, debate, and distressing war news

Images of war, violence, and death can be found all over social media, while online and in-person debates on politics feel more heated than ever. For those who want to protect their mental health from all that's popping up recently, here's some advice.

People across the world are struggling with distressing war news and debates that come with it. Here are some tips to help during challenging times.
People across the world are struggling with distressing war news and debates that come with it. Here are some tips to help during challenging times.  © Unsplash/Nima Mot

On TV, and especially on social media, it's impossible to ignore the steady drumbeat of grim reports, fighting, and gruesome images from the war in Ukraine and between Israel and Gaza.

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).

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

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When you see a post with distrssing images, it's not uncommon to look for further information, articles, or posts and dive deeper. 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."

How can you work past doomscrolling? Here are some tips.

How to fight doomscrolling

How to fight doomscrolling? Try to stop the deep dives, engage with loved ones, and question the motivation of the content you're consuming.
How to fight doomscrolling? Try to stop the deep dives, engage with loved ones, and question the motivation of the content you're consuming.  © Unsplash/Borna Hržina

Krahe suggests three solutions for fighting the doomscrool – the first being to abstain from viewing images and videos. For your psychological health's sake, try not to 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 follow or share it.

How to handle debate, disagreements, and differing options on the wars

Try approaching conversations and tough debates with your loved ones with an open mind, heart, and patience.
Try approaching conversations and tough debates with your loved ones with an open mind, heart, and patience.  © Unsplash/Kelly Sikkema

Despite doomscrolling, it doesn't mean you need to completely stop your consumption of news and information - after all, they're important in helping you form opinions and stay in the know.

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 favored 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, 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 tension?

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."

Approach conversations with patience, kindness, and maturity, and try to listen to opinions that are different from yours even if you don't agree with others' viewpoints. It's an "I've-got-to-be-right" mentality that prevents toleration of contrary standpoints.

Check out more of our tips to help with your mental health here.

Cover photo: Unsplash/Borna Hržina

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