How to exist during wartime

Even in peacetime, closely following the news can have detrimental effects on our mental health. But many feel a duty to stay informed about the events unfolding around us, especially during turbulent times. So how can we find a balance between information and sanity?

Different people have different tolerances for observing pain and suffering — and there’s no shortage of it online at any moment. If being aware of your own threshold and protecting your mental health means choosing not to engage at all, there’s no shame in that. It might mean setting a screen time limit for Twitter and news apps on your devices to stop the doom scroll spiral before it happens. Or it might mean setting a timer when you first get on social media so you don’t lose track of how long you’ve been scrolling. Or it might just mean practicing being conscious of your reactions to what you see, and exiting the app as soon as you start to feel overwhelmed or anxious.

While the specifics may vary, a healthy approach to learning about painful events usually includes:

  1. A mechanism for noticing when your mental limit is about to be met.
  2. Being gracious to yourself about what your threshold is.
  3. Keeping in mind that watching another video of bombs, tanks, or gunfire does nothing to stop those bombs, tanks, and gunfire.

Regardless of what techniques you choose to incorporate, mindfulness about how and why you react to information the way you do is a critical first step towards healthy news consumption. Here are a few tips specifically catered to being mindful on social media during violent times:

  • Fog of war is real. Real-time information is difficult to verify and often incomplete. If you find yourself trying to verify the information yourself, that’s often a sign to step back and wait for more complete reporting.
  • Our brains naturally give more weight to photos and videos as evidence — so we tend to share them without doing due diligence. A photo or video only shows a small slice of a much bigger picture, and many of the photos and videos circulating today are of events in different times and places.
  • Separate governments from citizens. It’s unclear what Russian people know and don’t know about this war – be specific in your comments and avoid generalizing viewpoints or opinions.
  • Be patient with yourself and others for getting emotional about emotional events

Very few of us have the power to change this situation — even prominent world leaders aren’t getting their way. Do what you can, donate money to support people in need, and share information you see as important, but don’t blame yourself for the things you can’t change.

Anna Tyger March 1, 2022