The Emotional Toll of Bad News

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To a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) or empath, the news is never just the news. It’s not easy for people like us to be hit with a wave of tragic news stories and just keep living our lives as if we weren’t exposed to them. That’s not how we work. In fact, even just browsing through a store and hearing a piece of negative gossip can knock us off our stride. We’re not being dramatic; we’re simply feeling everything.

It becomes absolutely necessary for us to find a way to navigate our highly sensitive lives. We learn to recognize triggers, to practice self-care, and to put boundaries around what we are and aren’t willing to absorb. For me, I choose not to watch televised news programs. Believe me: I get plenty of news online. But I prefer reading it rather than watching the sensationalized spin of the news anchors on television. It also allows me to take in words rather than both words and images so that I can monitor just how much I can take.

It’s been a week of tragic celebrity suicides. Kate Spade. Anthony Bourdain. As a former student of psychology and then practicing therapist, I know that publicizing suicides often lead to an increase in suicides. I wonder if the news media doesn’t know this well-known fact- or if they just don’t care, driven more by ratings and sensationalism than preventing other tragedies from occuring.

Or, perhaps, they wrongly believe that they can raise awareness about suicide prevention. Sure, we can try. I’ll add the information myself here for anyone who needs it. But instead of raising awareness, we often convince, instead, someone else to take their life. It’s a vicious cycle, and not everyone is famous enough to make the daily news — yet their lives matter just as much as the celebrities who came into our homes with their handbags and their travel programs. Even if we don’t know them, these troubled strangers, they matter.

And, for an empath, their suffering can become our own. We can worry at these stories and pick them apart, frustrated at our inability to turn back time and save them. Then we often turn to the people in our lives, feeling frantic that perhaps the signs are there for us, too, and we’ve just missed them. Then there’s the self-care aspect: empaths often struggle with depression and anxiety, too. How can we manage all the feelings that are a part of our lives and also process the ones coming at us from external sources?

It’s okay for us to check out from the news cycle when we need to. It’s perfectly acceptable to draw our lines and retreat from taking in any more negativity. We can even choose to limit time around the people in our lives who are more likely to gossip or dwell on the negative. We can say that enough is enough and learn to protect ourselves

We can also reach out and let others help us for a change. We can rely on our own support systems to buoy us through the difficult days of processing yet another tragic event in the world. We can talk to other HSPs and those people in our lives who understand what it is to struggle with a heart worn directly on our sleeves. We can talk about the difficulties inherent in handling these waves of emotions and allow other people to be there while we struggle.

We can learn to increase our normal self-care to crisis levels. When basic self-care isn’t sufficient, it’s time to think bigger. We may need to use every self-care trick we know to help ourselves through difficult times. Extra pampering, extra sleep, healthier food, social time with supportive people balanced with time alone, good music, more sunshine or time in nature, and even reaching out to professionals for additional assistance. Whatever it takes, it’s important that we don’t become the one in crisis because we’ve internalized someone else’s.

We can act on our sense of urgency. If we feel like we need to do more, that’s okay. We can reach out to friends who we feel like may need us. We can notice when others seem down and try to offer support, however small. We can be present in our lives so that we don’t miss the signs. We can offer to raise awareness or donate to a charity that helps those in need. If there’s an action we can take, then let’s take it.

But let’s also realize that sometimes the only thing we can do is live good, happy, healthy lives ourselves. We can’t save the world. Sometimes, it doesn’t want to be saved. Other times, we’re limited to what we can do inside of the lives we’re living. And it’s okay to take a break from handling everyone else to focus on building good lives for ourselves, for cultivating friendships, and enjoying quality time with family. Just because we’re highly sensitive doesn’t mean we have to take on the weight of the world. It’s good to shrug it off sometimes and remember that we can help others best by taking care of ourselves first.

I’m not trying to make the tragic deaths of Spade or Bourdain about me or any other empath. But I know that I was rocked by the news, by the loss of lives that mattered- even if they didn’t know it. And, knowing the ripple effect of suicide, I was troubled, bracing myself for more bad news. But then I remembered that my job has never been to save the world. My job is to live in it. To be a part of it. Hopefully, a good part. I started to take care of me, to refocus on my own life and priorities, and to remember to reach out any time that I can so that everyone in my life knows that they matter.

That means you, too. You matter. I can’t save you. Only you can do that. So, dear readers, take care.

And for those rocked by the waves of tragedy and the ever-present cycle of negative news, you are not alone. Hold on a little longer, and learn to build yourself a life boat.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1–800–273–8255

En Espanol 1–888–628–9454

Deaf and Hard of Hearing 1–800–799–4889

Crisis Text Line 741741

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