Highly Sensitive Refuge
A highly sensitive person being overwhelmed by reading the newspaper.

News Overload Is Real. Here’s How It Affects Highly Sensitive People.

No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, it’s difficult to remain unaffected by the current state of our conflict-ridden country. This is especially true for highly sensitive people (HSPs). Thanks to our extraordinarily responsive nervous systems, the constant barrage of polarizing news has left many of us emotionally raw — trapped in an endless state of fight or flight. And since daily life is already extra stressful for us, due to our deep processing, this nonstop stream of devastating news only serves to make it more difficult than it already is.

Due to a biological difference, HSPs experience emotions deeply, startle easily, and can quickly become overwhelmed. Because of this, sustained exposure to events that elicit a sensitivity response can be overwhelming. We may even feel the stress physically — upset stomach, insomnia, depressed immune system. Or it may manifest mentally, through anxiety and/or depression. The bottom line is that for many highly sensitive people, their emotions externalize themselves through their bodies — and their bodies are changed by their emotions

HSP or not, news overload is real. But for highly sensitive people, it can be even more debilitating.

(That’s just the beginning of what it means to be a highly sensitive. Check out our in-depth guide for more.)

Although it’s important to remain informed and aware of what’s happening in the world, the stress of doing so can take a serious toll on the HSP’s health. Part of being a highly sensitive person is knowing your limits and how to best manage them. It’s not uncommon for HSPs to have to make adjustments in order to stay happy and healthy. If you’re finding these times of political and social unrest to be a little too draining, here are three ways to take a step back and regain control.

How HSPs Can Cope with News Overload

1. Be informed, not immersed.

There are ways to stay aware of what’s happening in the world without completely drowning in bad news. Here’s a tip from my therapist that I’ve found to be really helpful: Limit the time you spend reading or listening to the news to 10-15 minutes a day.

It helps to work it into your daily routine by setting aside a specific time to do so. Once you’re done taking in the news, process your emotions, feel what you need to feel, and then go on with your day.

And whatever you do, avoid reading the comments section — there’s rarely anything useful or constructive there. If you’re a highly sensitive person, just reading an argument between two people — even if it doesn’t involve you — can be enough to make you feel stressed.

Finally, take action, but don’t let it consume your life. For example, say you’re troubled by gun violence. Your options might be to reach out to your representatives and share your concerns, take part in a protest, or volunteer your time with an advocacy group. You could choose to do one, two, or all three of these things. Just make sure you’re basing your choices on what will help you make a change without compromising your mental and physical health.

2. Take a break from social media.

If you’re so overwhelmed by the news that even once a day is too much, it’s time to take a break. It may feel like giving up, but it’s not — you’re simply taking a short hiatus for the sake of your sanity.

Start by letting key people know you’ll be taking some time off and how they can contact you if necessary. Then, delete all social media apps from your phone. If you don’t need to occasionally view social media sites for work, consider adding an extension to your browser to block access to websites such as Facebook or Twitter.

You might be surprised just how refreshing a social media detox can be. Though it certainly has its positive aspects, social media has some serious downsides as well. A survey from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found 30 percent of people who check their social media accounts multiple times a day reported high levels of sleep disturbance. What’s more, 25 percent presented strong signs of depression.

Taking a break from social media means your exposure to bad news, conflict, and divisive politics will be almost nil. It’ll allow you to breathe easier, sleep better, enjoy your surroundings, and be far more present in your relationships with others.

3. Communicate your needs.

One of the hardest parts about cutting back on how much news you take in is avoiding it in conversation. It seems like, most of the time, it’s all anyone wants to talk about. This is understandable, of course. These events are shaping both the present and future of our country and the world, so people are bound to have strong opinions and emotions regarding them.

Talk to your friends, family, and coworkers about why you’re taking a break from the news. Explain how all of the conflict you’re being exposed to on a daily basis has been affecting you. Then, politely request they not share news stories with you unless it’s urgent.

Whether you’re cutting back on your exposure to the news or cutting it out of your life altogether, one of the best ways to navigate these tough times is to spread humor, love, and happiness wherever you go. Take time to strengthen your relationships with others and establish a sense of emotional safety and belonging. Spend some time really soaking in the beauty of nature. Meditate, read a book, watch your favorite TV shows, throw yourself into a hobby, or do your favorite self-care activity. Give your frazzled nervous system the time it needs to recover.

Most importantly, remember that it’s 100 percent okay to take a break from the world every now and then. As the saying goes, “You can’t pour from an empty cup — take care of yourself first.”

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