Do you feel like you've been bombarded with bad news for what feels like forever? Wars, viruses, political scandals, and more are seemingly never-ending, and it's now got a name: permacrisis. But what is this permacrisis, and how does it affect our mental health?
According to Collins Dictionary, permacrisis was the word of the year in 2022, defined as "living through a period of war, inflation, and political instability" and "an extended period of instability and insecurity." From Brexit to COVID, through war and instability in Europe and Russia, and most recently the terrible earthquake in Turkey and Syria - the world has gone through one crisis after another, and we can't escape it. The 24-hour news cycle, social media, and our mobile devices make it hard to tune out from the negativity.
The constant stream of bad news can increase anxiety levels, which can have a serious impact on our mental and physical health. In fact, the World Health Organization found that the COVID pandemic alone led to a 25% increase in anxiety and depression globally. The UK saw a huge surge in demand for online news during the first week of lockdown in March 2020, with 99% of online users accessing news daily. This is a habit many have continued and for some it is taking a toll.
So, how does permacrisis affect us?
When we hear negative news, our bodies may release stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, says Dr. Marianne Trent, clinical psychologist. This prepares us to respond with fight, flight, or appease, or even dissociation if those strategies aren't available. The constant exposure to pessimistic information can also prime us to have less optimistic expectations for events.
Constant bad news can also trigger anxiety. It can then also encourage the overthinking which further fuels anxiety, highlighting people's fears and setting someone on a worry circuit. With news repeated constantly throughout the day, it can be hard to escape.
What can we do?
To mitigate the effects of permacrisis, Trent suggests setting a timer for a fixed period, such as seven minutes, to check news sites, and only do so after completing tasks from your to-do list. It's also important to protect children from permacrisis news. Children only need to know relevant information, and programs like Newsround can provide age-appropriate news. If you need to share difficult news, do it in a simple and factual way that invites questions from the child. Talking through a situation can often help to reduce worries and improve behavior.
Mindful Disconnection and Positive News
It's important to stay informed, but if you find that you're regularly getting emotionally derailed by the news, it might be helpful to take a mindful disconnect from news sites. To do this - make a promise to yourself not to access the news for 2-3 days. Many people find that after a day or so, they feel brighter and don't miss the constant exposure to negativity. Trent suggests remembering that there are positive stories out there, and websites like Positive News or the Happy Newspaper can provide a break from the permacrisis.
Mindfulness and breathing exercises can also help offset the stress and anxiety caused by the permacrisis. Box breath is one technique in particular that can help manage the sudden onset of stress caused by bad or worrying news. Tools like our very own Luma³ are a fantastic way to learn and access stress reducing breathing excersizes and provide a gentle reminder to fit them into your routine. Practicing mindfulness, such as meditation or yoga, can also help you stay centered and focused, reducing the impact of stress on your mind and body.
Remember - if you are really struggling with your wellbeing or mental health, there are many free resources available online in the UK and elsehwer to support you. Here are a few in case you need them:
Samaritans: A 24/7 support service for anyone who needs to talk about their feelings, thoughts, or experiences. Call 116 123 (free from any phone) or email email@example.com.
SANEline: A mental health helpline offering emotional support and information to people affected by mental illness. Call 0300 304 7000 (4:30pm-10:30pm every day).
Mind Infoline: A mental health information and support service offering guidance on a range of issues, including depression, anxiety, and stress. Call 0300 123 3393 (9am-6pm, Monday-Friday).
The Mix: A free, confidential support service for young people under 25, offering information and support on a wide range of topics, including mental health and well-being. Call 0808 808 4994 (11am-11pm, 7 days a week).
Rethink Mental Illness Advice Line: A support service for anyone affected by mental illness, offering practical and emotional support, as well as information on treatment options. Call 0300 5000 927 (9.30am-4pm, Monday-Friday).