I’m not sure about you, but recently the news has really been stressing me out. It seems like daily there is more devastating news from all over the world that leaves me feeling sick to my stomach. If you are feeling the same way, here are some self-care tips for travellers with headline stress.
What is Headline Stress?
Steven Stosny coined the term headline stress after the disastrous 2016 US elections, although psychologists call it News Overload. It describes the dual feelings of terror and powerlessness that come from the constant bombardment of the negative news cycle. Stosny argues that the stress especially affects women, who feel “devalued, dejected, rejected, unseen, unheard, and unsafe” in the wake of the Trump election win. These feelings are putting people, and women especially, at an increased risk of anxiety and depression.
Stosny’s article focuses specifically on the US context, but I would argue that the phenomena is permeating the globe. With the constant threat of rising white supremacy, anti-semitism, and far-right politicians gaining more global power, I know I personally am left with unspeakable daily anger and an increasing sense of voicelessness.
I also want to acknowledge my whiteness at this point, as nowhere have I read of the impact of headline stress on POCs (Persons of Colour), and it troubles me that even in the research, their voices are overlooked. How much more devastating is the news cycle when it directly impacts your and your family’s bodies and lives.
The daily news is traumatic for all people with a social conscience, and triggering for people who have been the victims of sexual assault, racism, or any other manner of atrocity that passes for politics these days.
Headline Stress and Travelling
Adding to the craziness of the current news cycle, is the experience of travelling. The two together make for a vicious melting pot of anxiety and stress. How do we as travellers look after ourselves and practice self-care while we are on the road? Here are my top tips for travellers with headline stress.
Tips for travellers with headline stress #1: Identify behaviours
Sometimes my body knows that I’m stressed before my mind does. I, like many people who suffer from anxiety, have some telltale behaviours that let me know that I’m anxious or stressed. Picking at the skin around my nails, an inability to settle down to a task, and getting irrationally angry at something small are all ways I can tell that I’m having anxiety. I wrote extensively about anxiety for travellers if you are interested in learning more about that specifically.
If you’re having a bad day and you can’t figure out what’s bothering you, try to be a bit more present and listen to what your body is telling you. You might have stomach cramps, or feel dizzy and light-headed, or you may be engaging in repetitive behaviours that are your body’s way of coping with stress. Identify if these are happening so you can get t o the root of what you are feeling. Also, make a note of these behaviours, so that you can catch them earlier in the future.
Tips for travellers with headline stress #2: Identify the emotion
Before you can look after yourself, you need to know what it is that you’re feeling. Anger, panic, helplessness, restlessness, and so many other emotions can be symptoms of stress and anxiety. Identify and name the emotion(s) that you’re feeling. Can you link them back to an event or a particular piece of news? Understanding your emotions is important so that you know what you can do to feel better.
There is also a huge amount of power in voicing your emotions. Often, when I am feeling all the symptoms of anxiety, simply saying out loud, ‘wow, I’m feeling so anxious’, helps me focus on solutions rather than just getting overwhelmed by emotion.
Tips for travellers with headline stress #3: Disconnect
If you have identified that you’re suffering with headline stress, one thing you can do is to disconnect from the media for a while. Can you take a break from your phone or laptop for a day, or even a few hours? This is one time that travelling is really great, as often we get so caught up in the intensity of our travel that we don’t have time to check our phones.
If you are a person that is connected often and the thought of taking a break gives you anxiety, set yourself a timer and work up to longer break times. You can also get apps that give you feedback on how much time you’re on your phone, which can be awesome tools to help you disconnect.
If your job involves being on the internet or attached to your laptop, disconnecting gets a lot more difficult. Setapp has a great list of 10 apps that can help focus you on your task at hand and keep you away from social media and news sites.
Tips for travellers with headline stress #4: Engage
Now I don’t want to assume that headline stress will improve for everyone if we all just take a break from the news. In fact, disconnecting can have the opposite effect. If there is a specific issue that is stressing you out, it can be much better for your mental health to formulate a plan of engagement rather than trying to ignore it.
Ask yourself: ‘what can I do from where I am?’ If there is nothing you can do, then keeping yourself busy with other active self-care tasks may be a good choice. I wrote about self-care for long term travellers, if you need some ideas for what could help.
However, if there is something you can do, write yourself an action plan and get to it in manageable steps. Can you donate money to an NGO or comunity organisation that is working in your area of interest? Can you raise money or awareness for the issue whre you are, or online? What are the meaningful ways you can engage with your issue of interest whilst travelling?
Sometimes self-care is beginning to be an active participant in the issues that break your heart, rather than a passive recipient of heart-breaking news.
I also want to check my privilege here. Having an academic discussion about the merits of whether or not to engage is a very privileged position. White kids, reflect on how you would feel if the news was directly affecting you (if it doesn’t already), and engage accordingly.
Tips for travellers with headline stress #5: Connect with People
Travel can be isolating, and it becomes far more lonely when you are overwhelmed by the news you are reading from back home. Schedule time to talk to people that love and understand you in whatever way you can. Skype is good, texting is good too, there is no wrong way to do this!
If you find yourself at a loss when you try to think of people that you can talk to, consider investing in a session with an online therapist. Technology can help you as much as it causes stress, and online therapists are well equipped to listen and help you contain and use your emotions in a positive way.
if therapy isn’t your thing, and your friends feel far, why not reach out to people on Instagram or Twitter? Let activists or journalists know how much their work is affecting you. They love to hear it, and it will make you feel like part of a community even if you are thousands of kilometres away. Who knows, maybe you will even get connected to like-minded travellers near you, who can grab a coffee and alleviate the stress a little bit. Stress can make us close down and withdraw, try to fight that urge by reaching out and connecting.
Tips for travellers with headline stress #6: Choose your News
We often become mindless consumers of news while we scroll through Facebook. When you find that the headlines are stressing you out, become more active in choosing which news you consume. Schedule time when you are allowed to read articles, and then use that time to actively seek out news from websites that you trust to give an honest and unbiased look at what’s happening.
Unfollow or hide friends that share the kind of news that stresses you out, and instead follow accounts that give you actionable steps that can help you feel like you can engage positively.
Dealing with Headline Stress before you Travel
Maybe you haven’t even started your trip yet, and you’re already wondering whether you can or should go, or how you will be able to enjoy yourself with all the nonsense going on. Do a little research before you go or even before you book your tickets if possible, looking for any important events that will happen while you’re away.
A good example of what I mean is something like elections, or mid-term voting. Plan for being present for events that mean a lot to you, or make contingency plans if you have to be away. Can you vote early? What do you need to pack or sort out before you go so that you can still engage in a meaningful way? Thinking of these things before you go will make it a lot less stressful to consume the news surrounding these events.
Travelling with Headline Stress: Dealing with Guilt
Travelling is an incredible privilege for most of us. Even if you have had to bust your ass for every second you get to spend travelling, people back home may not understand or see that side things. It can be easy to feel guilty about travelling when the world is so messed up. I know that every story I read about refugees and asylum seekers makes me feel sick, because I travel for fun. My travel is sought after because of the pure insane luck of my race, citizenship, and money.
But it is important to note that guilt doesn’t help anyone. In fact, if I voice my guilt and how bad I feel, I run the risk of centering my pain rather than getting the focus on the people that need support and attention. So, when you feel the guilt of travelling, do something with it.
My tips for travellers with headline stress are to read, reflect, share and amplify the voices that need to be heard, whoever they may be. Use your travel to contribute to ethical, sustainable, community-run organisations that depend on your tourism. Turn every guilty feeling into a call to action to do better and be more intersectional.
You can read more about our sustainable travel activities in Borneo with Orangutans, and Sun bears, in Bali, and Thailand, for inspiration. Someone that you should check out is Miss Filatelista, who has an amazing blog filled with ethical travel ideas, as is the blog of Two Dusty Travelers, who offer amazing ethical travel resources. You can also read about some ethical travel and activism in these 2 posts on Supporting Standing Rock and Experiencing the Cultural Shifts at Standing Rock.
I hope that this blog post has given you ammunition in your fight against the negative news cycle that we’ve been dealing with for the past few years. Above all, know that you are not ‘too sensitive’ or a ‘snowflake’ for being effected by this stuff, you are in fact just reacting like a caring, empathetic person. Look after yourselves out there darlings, and please get in touch if you have anything to add or if you think I’m missing something.
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