Dear LAist: I Feel Overwhelmed By The News. What Can I Do?
The news has been intense, from the violent chaos at the Capitol in Washington D.C., to the surging pandemic in Los Angeles, to widespread unemployment, and the continued insidious effects of systemic racism.
We asked you how you’re doing, and many of you said you’re struggling to process so much difficult news.
“I have reached this heightened state of being overwhelmed, and I don’t like it,” David Fair of Hollywood shared with us. “It’s a really uncomfortable feeling.”
Very poorly, thank you!— Nicole Leigh (@heynicoleleigh) January 7, 2021
For Angelenos experiencing similar overwhelmed feelings, please know that help is out there. Start with our How To New L.A. Mental Health Guide, and there’s also the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, which is available 24/7 by phone at (800) 854-7771.
Mental health help comes in many forms — from psychiatrists, psychologists, crisis counselors, trauma specialists (and other types of therapists), to trusted family, friends, and community members.
We called up Lance Tango — who practices marriage, family, and what he calls “restorative engagement therapy” in Pasadena — for a big picture overview on dealing with feeling overwhelmed. He also gave us some tools to add to our mental health utility belts.
He acknowledges these are challenging times.
“I think the best thing that we can do for our bodies and our brains and our nervous systems is to pace out how we take in this information,” Tango told me. But that’s easier said than done.
If rabbit holes of distraction are your preferred form of self care, we’ve got you covered there. But Tango also had these additional suggestions for processing troubling news.
The body mechanics are a bit complicated, but the takeaway is this: stress affects more than our moods — it can affect us physiologically. When the body is stressed, it releases chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol, intended to prepare the body to react if necessary.
Tango’s suggestion: if you are able to do so safely, get moving – whether that’s taking a walk, working out, or even dancing. If you can break a sweat or move both the left and right sides of your body, he says that can help, too.
“By moving in this way, what we start to do is we start to use up the energy our body was building up ... preparing us for fight or flight,” Tango explained.
CHECK IN WITH YOUR SENSES
If you’re not able to be as active, Tango suggests doing an activity that involves a lot of your five senses, like cooking.
He also suggests focusing on each of your senses: What are you seeing? Hearing? Smelling? Feeling? Tasting?
“Anything that activates our senses can also help to remind our body that we're in an environment that's very different than the one that we were watching play out in front of our screens,” Tango explained.
INVENTORY YOUR FEELINGS
Tango suggested doing what he called an informal mental inventory of the past several years, “looking at all the moments that we felt hopeful, and all the moments that we felt hopeless, and seeing the ways in which that fluctuates up and down.”
Then, Tango said, you can ask yourself if there are certain events that could happen that would make you feel hopeful again.
“For most of us, there's something of all these different events that have been going on, that has impacted us personally,” Tango explained. “And the impact of that – I think we need to look at it carefully, and ask ourselves: is there any part of it that requires a certain grieving?”
Tango said grief can look different to different people, but can include self-reflection, acknowledgement of feelings, nostalgic things like certain foods or music, writing, or sharing your concerns with someone or a group.
ASK FOR HELP
Strongly consider reaching out to a professional for support if you’re seeing big changes in yourself, like these:
- Disruptions in sleep (either sleeping significantly more or less than usual)
- Big changes in appetite
- Panic attacks (which can feel like shortness of breath and an intense fear of dying)
- Depression, apathy, and/or numbness
- More agitation and confrontations in your relationships
- Increased dependence on substances like alcohol, marijuana, or prescription medications
- Here are 5 Action Steps for helping someone who may be suicidal, from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
- Ask these six questions to help assess the severity of someone's suicide risk, from the Columbia Lighthouse Project.
- To prevent a future crisis, here's how to help someone make a safety plan.
Below are additional resources and ways to get in touch with trained mental health professionals.
MORE MENTAL HEALTH REPORTING AND RESOURCES:
- How To Process A Scary Day For The Nation With Your Kids
- Need Some Mental Health Support? Start Here
- The Ultimate Mental Health Distraction Worksheet
- 'How Can I Help You?' Schools Try To Reach Students Struggling With Mental Health During Coronavirus
- Steinberg Institute website, links to mental health resources and care throughout California
- Institute on Aging's 24/7 Friendship Line (especially for people who have disabilities or are over 60), 1-800-971-0016 or call 415-750-4138 to volunteer)
- Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, 24/7 Access Line 1-800-854-7771
- The Crisis Text Line, Text "HOME" (741-741) to reach a trained crisis counselor.
- California Psychological Association Find a Psychologist Locator>>
- Psychology Today guide to therapists>>