This article is part of a series on “Coping with Bad World News”, where we interviewed youth on their personal tips to look after their wellbeing.
Today’s interview is with Marta Gramatyka, a current student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
For more information on this topic, check out our resource on “Coping with Bad World News” here.
You don’t need to entertain all of your thoughts: how to cope media negativity
WHO recognized the impact of COVID-19 and its related restrictions on people’s mental health and the prevalence of anxiety and depression. Even before the pandemic, mental health issues were not properly addressed in most countries due to lack of adequate infrastructure or awareness of such problems. According to ourworldindata.org, over 10% of the world’s population suffered from some mental health issues; however, it is important to keep in mind that due to the stigma surrounding mental health, many people never seek help nor communicate about their feelings and fears with others. The outburst of the pandemic led to social unrest in several countries as well as multitude of changes and disruptions in every aspect of life.
With the rapidly changing world and an abundance of unpredictable events leading to many global uncertainties, it is easy to suffer from mental distress caused by an inability to let go of the fears and questions about the future. With the media and news constantly bombarding us with all that’s negative and unpleasant, many people’s worldview became grim and pessimistic. The media often highlights depressing events and in order to stay informed, people feel an urge to consume it all the time, trying to make sense out of what they see. However, having a bad mood is not the only consequence of being surrounded by negativity. It can impact our life in disastrous ways, leading not only to serious mental illnesses such as depression or personality disorders and development of anti-social behaviors, but it can also make us distressed, which may become harmful both for ourselves and the others. By bottling up one’s feeling, which is a socially expected behavior, people get frustrated to the point of not being able to function normally and find joy in things they once liked. They got fed up with negativity, overlooking what is good in the world, as if the good doesn’t get nearly a part of the same attention and coverage. Not being able to share their fears and concerns with others, they may get aggressive, overly judgmental or indulge in self-harm behaviours such as drug and alcohol addictions.
But is it the end of the world? There are still ways to cope with the uncertainty and overwhelming sadness, and behavioral patterns which can be learned in order to help us in the long-term. Personally, I believe that the way to deal with negativity is opening ourselves up to multiple perspectives and points of view, and reminding ourselves that what we see is not all there is, that the world is much bigger than what we see on the screen. During overwhelming moments, I like to go out to the city just to wander along the streets and see different people going to different places and living their normal, daily life. It may seem trivial, but somehow seeing that there is still normality outside and there are still people who are able to lead a normal lifestyle is uplifting. I like being around the hustle and bustle of the city, because although it may be stressful for some, it allows me to detach myself from my own feelings. Being around nature on the other hand helps with connecting with one’s feelings. Moreover, once I’m outside I feel how big and filled with ideas the world is, and this helps me see the bigger picture with a wider perspective.
Aside from going for walks, I’ve started to meditate. At first it is hard, but once a person learns how to do it properly and how to calm oneself down whenever necessary, it feels truly healing. When reading some Buddhist writings, I remember seeing a quote: “You can’t stop negative thoughts from popping into your head, but you don’t need to entertain them”. This idea that I do not need to act upon and react on everything I think allows me to take a step back and examine whether obsessing over certain things happening in the world is worth it – and if it is, the calm and considerate approach allows me to think of a solution to solve the issue, rather than just being angry or sad about something. Meditation not only allows me to find another perspective on how to approach and challenge my own thoughts, but also how to focus on a current situation and understand my own mental and physical needs. Although it is not the ultimate solution for diagnosed mental health problems, it is a good coping mechanism as well as a new way to challenge our own prejudices and points of view.
Lastly, it is important to find a healthy outlet for the feelings – whether it is through art or talking to a friend or taking up a new activity. Humans, as social beings, do not do well if they’re left alone, and suppressing one’s feelings for a long time is not healthy nor efficient. Although there are many social stigmas surrounding the topic and a general aversion towards talking about mental health, it is an important topic, especially in the times of social isolation and uncertainty. Finding an outlet for one’s feelings doesn’t need to be anything fancy nor time-consuming. It doesn’t need to include involving a whole friend group or family in your problems nor starting to do a bunch of new things. Sometimes it is enough just to sit in silence, preferably with someone you trust, and try to organize and understand where the overwhelming feelings come from, and whether it is possible to give them less control over our life and mind or, alternatively, act upon them to change the circumstances. Figuring out if they relate to things we can or cannot change is an important part of one’s mental wellbeing evaluation, as realizing that gives a great power. If something we are worried about can be changed or improved, we all have the strength to do it and can act right away. If, however, the thing we worry about makes us hopeless and it seems like we are not able to find a solution nor switch a perspective on the problem, we may just let it be, since our input and stress would not have an impact on the problem. Taking care of what we allow ourselves to feel is an important part of self-care and self-responsibility.