Managing Ourselves During Difficult Global Times

Home / Campus and Medical Center / ( Published on 2014-08-14 )

With a brief survey of the tragic national and international events covered by the media over the past few years, one can easily note strong themes of living in a world of troubled times and uncertainty. A longtime television anchor recently noted "Since the horrific events of Sept. 11, there has not been a day in the life of any US television station or newspaper bureau, which has not mentioned the possibility of impending war, increased terrorism alerts, or more international conflict." Whether one promotes more peaceful resolutions or in contrast believe military action is the only absolute solution to reduce conflicts, one cannot deny that many of the experiences over the past years alone have affected our viewing choices and access to more live news. 

With these uncertain and troubled times, several mental health and consumer studies have noted a growing dependence upon watching television for news in comparison to radio, the Internet, or newspapers. Studies report that a preference for live-action footage is among the primary reasons for the rapid increase in television viewing. As one long-time television talk show host so aptly noted, "We want live action television and to be in the courtroom, in people’s homes, with police beats, and adventure rides with others. We want to watch people find a spouse." Following such events on television allows us to observe first-hand emotions. However, with our rapid increase in becoming dependent upon television for entertainment, relaxation, and at times as the only primary source of daily news updates, many medical and mental health professionals continue to be alarmed with the television viewers' ability to manage their exposure to the media. It is imperative to frequently assess and find a healthy balance of our exposure to the media, particularly disturbing live footage.

Managing Disturbing Events and News

Reactions to disturbing local and global events can be unique and different for each individual. How do we act rationally and “normally” in these challenging times? For some, we become more nervous and begin to increase our television news viewing exponentially. Other feelings such as sorrow, hopelessness, mistrust, or perhaps an inability to feel may lie beneath the initial feelings and reactions to news. For others, feelings of fear or anger are so profound that there is little room for other feelings. Regardless, an array of feelings may arise and one can share them with colleagues, friends, family, and with professional help. Listed below are some tips on having a better perspective and balance on one's health and viewing of television:

  • Develop and continue life affirming activities (i.e., spending time with family and friends, enjoying hobbies, volunteerism), while keeping note on what is appropriate for your children (e.g. whether you should include them).
  • Limit your viewing of news broadcasts. Some are watching 3 to 4 broadcasts a day. Particularly when watching 24-hour news coverage stations, notice when you have watched the same broadcast more than once in a day.
  • When a crisis and/or disturbing event occurs, set firm limits on how many times you watch such updates on television. Take breaks from news coverage.
  • Strictly limit your children’s viewing and allow time to have them communicate their views, and disclose possible fears and confusion.
  • Differentiate between terrorism and war.
  • Notice how you and your family may take away time from other pleasurable and relaxing activities simply to watch television.
  • Notice how viewing television is easily equated with "relaxation" for you and your family.
  • Notice how news events may strongly influence—and at times dominate—the subjects of conversation with your family and friends.
  • Maintain your mental health and watch for signs of depression and anxiety.
  • Notice loss of focus of what was previously important to you and your family.
  • Be aware of excessive alcohol and other drug use.
  • Give guidance and support to children and other vulnerable people in your life (i.e. ailing relatives).
  • Make necessary precautions (i.e., emergency home kit) but recognize when you may be overdoing it.
  • Monitor your eating habits and appetite.
  • Maintain your physical health. Strengthen your daily routine of staying physically fit.
  • Give yourself permission to feel and grieve the losses of others involved in disturbing news.
  • Talk to others close to you, which can help keep fears realistic.
  • Consider creative and stress relieving outlets (such as hobbies, creative arts, perhaps exercise) in contrast to watching television.
  • Consider and actively seek professional help when needed.
  • Be optimistic and solution focused.
  • Provide support to others and possibly other organizations.
  • Realize there are contrasting attitudes about war and conflict.
  • Monitor feelings of hopelessness and a sense of loss of control over one’s life.
  • Notice any heightened sense of concern for the wellbeing of your loved ones and what is most realistic for you and them.

In closing, keep in mind that in addition to your family, friends, and community supports, professional counseling and other assistance is available here at UCSF as well as the local community. Knowing when to seek help for you and your loved ones and doing so ahead of time can make a world of a difference.

The UCSF Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FSAP) provides professional and confidential assessment, counseling, and referral services that support the wellbeing of both the individual and the organization. For an appointment or more information contact FSAP at (415) 476-8279 or visit the FSAP website.

References and Resources

  1. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 
  2. American Medical Association 
  3. American Psychiatric Association 
  4. American Psychological Association 
  5. Baum, A. (1986). Toxins, technology, disasters. In (Ed.) Cataclysms, crisis, and catastrophes: Psychology in action. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  6. Bloch, D. A., Silber, E., Perry, S. E. (1956). Some factors in the emotional reactions of children to disaster. American Journal of Psychiatry. 113, 416-422. 
  7. CNN News 
  8. Mayo Clinic for Medical Education and Research 
  9. National Mental Health Association