It was December 14th of 2016, a typical Wednesday morning. As part of my routine on the daily 40-minute ride to school, I mindlessly opened my phone to check the news.
Headlines filled my phone screen as I focused my vision. The Syrian government under President Bashar al-Assad had officially recaptured Aleppo from the rebels. The long Battle of Aleppo was over. Pictures of the aftermath appeared. Once-beautiful mosques were in battered ruins, displaced families filled empty streets, children were covered in dark ashes, and people carried their home on their backs.
I was appalled, shocked, speechless, and confused. How could we continue to live our lives inside the bubble of privilege while children were dying in Syria? I tried to grasp the stories of human beings enduring such pain and suffering. I felt helpless.
It's been more than a year since that incident. Since then, I have become more or less accustomed to the influx of "bad news" on my social feeds.
As technology becomes increasingly advanced, the global community becomes more tightly intertwined. In the age of smartphones, social media, and 24-hour notifications, we are constantly exposed to news of current events. There are great merits in this social advancement. Personally, I'm a firm believer in the idea that people should be informed about the happenings around the world. It is through the communication of global news that we are able to see different perspectives and develop a sense of tolerance towards other cultures and communities. Without awareness and understanding, we cannot develop the compassion and drive for change.
But sometimes, the constant bombardment of negative news can be overwhelming. Almost every time that we check the news, there is some breaking conflict or tragedy being broadcasted. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, war, and questionable actions of the government all become part of our daily thoughts. According to a 2016 survey conducted on behalf of the American Psychological Association (APA), nearly 70% of the sample of 3,500 stated that they were "on edge about the future of the country," and nearly 60% attributed their stress to the U.S. political climate.
So how can we maintain a positive mindset in a world of negative news cycles?
1. Stay informed about fact-based news.
Yes, this seems contradictory, but being completely ignorant of the news is never a good idea. Sometimes, the reason that we feel overwhelmed by the news is due to the shocking headlines that we see. If we spend some time understanding the real cause behind an incident, then the initial shock and confusion can be alleviated to some degree. Awareness is the first step to resolution. We are only in a position to think about what could be done if we know the facts. A good understanding of the news also allows us to influence politicians, activists, and legislators in a meaningful way.
2. Change your perspective.
While it is easy to fall into a spiral of disillusionment and loss of faith in humanity, there are less self-deprecating ways to look at the situation. It is much more productive for us to take the news as fuel for motivation and self-improvement. In the midst of chaos, humans must rely on the hope that order can eventually be restored. So think about the possible things that the international community could do, and more importantly, what you can do as an individual. Can we become better people and better global citizens by taking small steps in our daily lives? Even if you don't know what you can contribute to the world, there are still other meaningful lessons to be learned. A wise man once told me, "If you don't know what to do [about] a certain situation in life, at least know what you won't do." Instead of thinking about the grand impossibility of starting a nonprofit organization or eradicating disasters, can we learn what not to do?
3. Discuss news with your peers.
Talking it out is one of the best ways to relieve stress and frustration. When we discuss the issues that are on our mind with peers, we often find that many people share the same feelings of dissatisfaction. This, in turn, makes us feel more connected to the people around us, reducing the individual burden of dealing with the negative news cycle. Another benefit of discussion is the introduction of new perspectives and thus the gain of a more complete understanding of current events. Sometimes, the news articles that we read only tell us one side of the story. The selectivity of sources and evidence is frequently used to suit authors’ values, hindering us from seeing the full picture. Healthy debate that expands our worldview can turn our attitude towards the news to a more positive one.
4. Take breaks from bad news.
It's okay to tune out once in a while, especially from the negative news. We all need to. As people say, if "it bleeds, it leads." We only ever hear about the negative news because tragedies and catastrophes will always sell better than celebrations and achievements. With the constant exposure to bad news, it's easy to forget that good news also exists. It’s important to read about the positive happenings once in a while and remind ourselves that not everything in the world is falling apart.