How to cope with bad world news

When bad news breaks, it can be hard to escape from it. You might find it tricky to unplug or think about other things. It’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed by the news, especially when good news stories can seem harder to come by. So, if you’re feeling down about the world, we’ve got some tips for you.

This might help if:

  • you've been feeling overwhelmed by the news

  • you don’t know how to respond to bad world news

  • you’re finding it hard to disconnect from the news, especially news on social media.

a cartoon image of a person curled up on the ground. around them lies a newspaper, a flower, a phone with a picture of a fire on it, a laptop, a tablet, and a book

Common responses to bad world news

There are endless kinds of news stories that can make you feel really down. Some common reactions to negative world news include feeling:

  • anxious and worried

  • depressed and sad

  • helpless

  • confused

  • angry.

Why does bad world news affect us?

On a planet with almost eight billion people, it’s really easy to feel disconnected. But when a world tragedy strikes, feelings of worry, sadness and grief are more common than you might think.

When we see upsetting information, our bodies react by releasing stress hormones to deal with the negative emotions. As news outlets can also be skewed towards reporting bad news over good news, this can create long-term negative effects on our wellbeing.

How does negative news affect the brain?

Overconsumption of negative news can cause significant mood changes which can cause feelings of anxiety and low mood and can contribute to mental illness. In addition, bad news can distort our thinking. This means that the more bad news we consume, the more likely we are to remember only them while forgetting or minimising positive stories. This is why it’s important to have strategies and support to help us cope with bad news.

How can I cope with bad world news?

There are a few things you can do to help.

a cartoon image of a smartphone stuck in some jelly with a nintendo ds and a diary next to it. above those things, text reads 'switch off: it's okay to take a break from the news cycle.'

1. Learn to switch off from bad news

It’s easier said than done, but taking a break from social media and the news can do a lot to help tackle the effects of bad world news. A majority of social media users will see shared news articles on their feeds, and with the media’s emphasis on negative news, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by your time on social media.

If you notice yourself feeling down because of the news on social media or on news websites, take a break. You could try going for a walk, reading a book, listening to music or a podcast, playing a game, or just being outside in the fresh air without your devices.

a cartoon image of a person talking outside listening to a podcast. text above them reads 'establish boundaries: set a limit on how much news you'll consume each day'. In their headphones, the podcast is telling them 'today's news nighlights- well, lowlights- in 10 minutes...'

In the long term, you could set yourself some rules. For example:

  • Only check the news at one or two set times per day.

  • Schedule blocks of time every day that are free of social media. You could try not using social media/your phone for three hours after you wake up, so you can start the day fresh, or for a couple of hours before you go to bed, to help you properly unwind.

  • Make sure every day to spend at least 15 minutes on self-care or an activity you enjoy.

Check out some more tips on taming your social media use.

2. Rethink your news sources

For some people, staying on top of what’s going on in the world is pretty important. Many news sources are focused more on getting clicks and views than on providing unbiased information. This is why the language used in some news articles or videos can be over the top, which can trigger a bigger emotional response.

Good news reporting has these characteristics:

  • It is focused on the truth. Not only does it verify facts, but it also presents them in an accurate context.

  • It is fair and doesn’t take sides. All sides of an issue are presented, and the context of the story is never left out intentionally in order to influence a reader’s understanding.

  • It is independent. Reporters aren’t influenced by sources in any way, including for personal or financial gain.

  • It is accountable. Any errors or unfair coverage are acknowledged and corrected.

Have a look at where you’re getting your news:

  • Is it from reputable, objective sources that are emotionally neutral?

  • Are you getting the full picture, or just snippets from social media and news headlines?

  • Are there any sources that upset you less than others?

If you find that certain sources keep popping up and often leave you feeling upset, you can always unfollow or block them.

a cartoon image of a person being consoled by their friends. text above them reads 'understand your feelings: try to figure out why the news is upsetting you'. the person being consoled is saying 'I feel a bit helpless...'

3. Try to understand why the news is upsetting you

Sometimes, negative world news can hit close to home. Whether it’s a tragedy in your family’s country of origin, or the death of a person you really admire, world news can feel very personal. If what you’re feeling is more than just a sense of empathy for those affected by a tragedy, it’s worth speaking about it to someone you trust. Chat to your friends, family or even a counsellor about how the news is affecting you. The simple act of talking can help you process what’s going on and make you feel a whole lot better. Get more tips on talking to someone you trust.

a cartoon image of some friends playing cards. below them, a tv news style graphic reads 'breaking news: go fish!' above them, text reads 'change the topic: have 'no news' time with loved ones'.

4. Have ‘no news’ time with loved ones

Spending time with friends or family can help boost your mood. Whether it’s doing an activity together, like cooking or walking your pet, or just having a chat, it can help you take your mind off things. Mention to your loved one that you don’t want to talk about news or current affairs. You could even specify which issue or story you want to avoid for the moment.

You could also hop over to the ReachOut Forums, where you can connect anonymously with other like-minded young people.

a cartoon image of a person thinking on things they can control. above them, text reads 'focus on what you can control: let go of what you can't'. several thought bubbles around them show things they can actually control, like 'how i treat the environment and other people', 'being informed', 'how much milk i put in my tea', 'what colour i paint my nails', 'how often i tell my friends that i love them', 'what show I'll watch tonight', and 'what I wear'.

5. Accept your level of control

When something bad happens, our immediate response may be to ask ourselves what we can do to help, and how we can put an end to it. Feeling helpless is a natural response, and one that can cause stress.

While there are usually things, big and small, that we can do to help a situation, we can’t stop it entirely on our own. Learning to understand how much influence we can have over something is a very important step in reducing the anxiety we might feel from hearing bad news.

We’re not saying that you shouldn’t try to help. In fact, helping out and trying to do something positive can often make us feel better. But we need to understand what is the most helpful way to contribute to a cause, and learn to accept the limits. Read more about how acceptance can help you cope with things that are out of your control.

Where can I find positive news stories in Australia?

To offset the impact of bad world news, it can be helpful to consume more positive news stories regularly. In Australia, national broadcasters like ABC and SBS have a good news filter while globally, digital publications like Positive News, social media accounts like @goodnews_movement focus more on good news stories. You could also try searching hashtags like #goodnews and  #positivenews on any social media platforms you use to find good news stories.

What can I do now?

  • Get some support on the ReachOut Forums.

  • Learn more about seeking professional help. If you've been affected by an overseas conflict, FASSTT offers a free and confidential multilingual hotline, Witness to War, staffed by mental health practitioners and bicultural support workers.