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Medical News Today: Anxious about the news? Our top tips on how to cope

Reading the news can be stress-inducing at the best of times. When the news is particularly worrying, many of us experience levels of anxiety so high that we can have difficulty coping. So how can we stay (reasonably) anxiety-free when the media bombards us with headlines that spook us?

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Does the news get you down? In this Special Feature, we look at some ways to fight off related anxiety.

It may seem as though we have entered an age of bad news. Every day for the past few years, newspapers and news websites have turned out stressful headlines full-blast.

There is news about wars and civic unrest, impending ecological disasters, failing economies, and violent, sad local events.

And — why not admit it? — though we aim to provide our readers with constructive, actionable content at Medical News Today, we, too, sometimes end up highlighting news that could be stressful.

While our intent is positive, to warn our readers about possible health dangers and empower our audience to avoid them, our content may sometimes lead to worry and anxiety.

So what can you do if what seems like a constant cycle of negative news throughout every media outlet is getting you down and interfering with your well-being?

In this Special Feature, we look at some tips for coping with the special kind of anxiety that can come from reading the news.

'Headline stress disorder'?

While news cycle-related anxiety has probably existed for centuries, it became particularly obvious in 2016, a year packed with global events that polarized communities.

When people started reporting tension and anxiety that stemmed from feeling bombarded by alarming news headlines, some therapists came to describe this as its own phenomenon.

For example, therapist Steven Stosny, Ph.D., refers to it as "headline stress disorder" in an opinion piece for The Washington Post. He describes his personal experience with clients in whom the grueling news cycle triggered intense feelings of worry and helplessness, and he reports that this particularly affected female clients.

Stosny's observations may be spot-on. According to a study from 2012, women are better than men at remembering negative news for longer periods. They also have more persistent physiological reactions to the stress caused by such news, the study's authors conclude.

"Many feel personally devalued, rejected, unseen, unheard, and unsafe. They report a sense of foreboding and mistrust about the future," Stosny writes.

A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that between August 2016 and January 2017, people in the United States reported an overall average stress level increase from 4.8 to 5.1 on a scale where 1 means little or no stress and 10 means an extremely high level of stress.

According to the researchers, this was the first notable increase in average stress levels in the decade since the association first started conducting these surveys.

The APA's 2019 report on stress levels in the U.S. population did not find much of a difference compared with past years, except in one respect: Respondents said that they felt distinctly more anxiety about specific topics.

According to the most recent poll data from the report, adults in the U.S. experienced the highest amounts of stress about politics, healthcare, and mass shootings.

Meanwhile, climate change and sexual harassment — other topics frequently covered in the news — also caused significantly more stress in 2019 than in 2018.

Millennials and Gen Zers most affected

The report's authors found that "More than 7 in 10 adults (72%) agree with the statement that the 'media blow things out of proportion,' and more than half (54%) say that they want to stay informed about the news, but following it causes them stress."

Differently aged groups reported different levels of stress that they attribute to the news media, with more people in their 30s and younger admitting to being upset by the news cycle:

"Around 3 in 5 Gen Z adults (61%) and millennials (60%) [say] they want to stay informed but that following the news causes them stress, while more than half of Gen Xers (55%) and half of Boomers (50%) express the same sentiment. However, just more than one-third of older adults (36%) say they want to stay informed but that doing so causes them stress."

The authors also add that many people choose to deal with this issue by avoiding the news. "Nearly 2 in 5 adults (39%) report that they have taken steps over the past year to reduce their news consumption," they write.

Take a break from the news

When faced with anxiety about what feels like a constant cycle of negative news, the best approach may be to step away and take a break from these reports, at least for a while.

For some, the anger, hopelessness, and feeling of powerlessness that can stem from sustained exposure to stressful news can really stand in the way of being productive on a day-to-day basis.

MNT spoke with one person who says that she has been living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For her, taking a break from the news was the only way to cope with news-related anxiety.

"I have huge news anxiety," she told us. "I realized a decade ago that the only way to really cope with my mental health was to not read the news or watch the news on [TV]. It means that I rarely have a clue [as to] what's going on in the world, and I feel [bad] when I hear people talking around me, but it also means that I can get out of bed in the mornings."

Switching to other activities may also help — not only to take your mind off negative scenarios for a while, but also to help regulate the emotions and make positive connections.

"It's vital to step back and recharge sometimes," another person who spoke with MNT about her news-related anxiety explains.

"My solution for news-based anxiety is the same as for any anxiety I'm feeling — I need to get out into nature, read some books, engage in some face-to-face conversations, and shun screens for a while," she adds.

As research has shown, reading can also help reduce stress, as can exercise, listening to music, and practicing meditation.

Katherine C. Nordal, Ph.D., the APA's executive director for professional practice, likewise emphasizes the importance of taking a break from the news cycle and turning to other activities instead:

"Read enough to stay informed, but then plan activities that give you a regular break from the issues and the stress they might cause. And remember to take care of yourself and pay attention to other areas of your life."

Focus on what you can solve

Instead of, or as well as, unplugging from the news, one way of coping with news-related anxiety is to focus on issues that you can help solve.

Negative world news, regarding acts of violence or the impact of a devastating hurricane, for example, can make people feel powerless and defeated.

But everyone can do a little something to make the world better — by contributing to positive changes in their communities, families, or even themselves.

One reader who spoke with MNT said that constant exposure to bad news made her want to spring into action — so she did, at a local level.

"I was feeling helpless and useless after a summer of bad news, so I joined a small but passionate political party," she told us. "It can be tempting to disengage, but stepping back was making me feel like I was letting others decide my future for me."

Another MNT reader took a similar approach and found that making a conscious decision to turn away from the news and start focusing on positive changes in one's own life can feel empowering and help relieve anxiety.

"It feels like, increasingly, the news causes me anxiety. […] It used to really get me down, especially thinking about what kind of world I'm bringing my children into," this reader told us.

But one morning, after getting wound up by more anxiety-inducing breaking news, she and her partner decided that enough was enough:

"[My husband and I] briefly discussed [the distressing news], agreed […] that it's not worth focusing on, and then quickly changed the subject to talk about what we are focusing on this year to make our planet and immediate community better. Doing that takes away the feeling of hopelessness and puts some power back in my own hands to make the change I want to see in the world."

Research has shown that getting involved in one's community by volunteering for local causes can boost a person's sense of well-being, reinstill a feeling of purpose, and solidify a sense of identity within the community.

Search for positive news roundups

When it feels as though a barrage of bad news can reach us all too easily, we sometimes need to make an effort to find positive news. This can help counteract news-related anxiety.

While we may feel that it is our responsibility to understand what is going wrong in the world so that we can find a way to fix it, it is also very important to find out what is going well so that we feel motivated, hopeful, and uplifted.

In an older study, researchers from the University of Sussex, in Brighton, United Kingdom, have shown that when we watch, read, or listen to negative news, it can exacerbate our tendency to worry about and formulate catastrophizing scenarios about issues in our own lives — even if they have no obvious connection to the news topics.

"The results of [our] study show that watching a predominantly negatively valenced news program raised self-reported measures of anxious and sad mood and subsequently led to the enhanced catastrophizing of personal worries," the researchers write.

That is why Karen McIntyre, Ph.D., from the Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond, and Cathrine Gyldensted, from the Open Eyes Institute in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, argue that we need a lot more constructive journalism.

The two researchers coined this term to describe a type of journalism that focuses more on possible solutions to ongoing problems and on presenting "the other side," rather than just focusing on the problems themselves.

"Constructive journalism seeks to counterbalance the skewed portrayal of the world produced by classical news journalism and strengthen traditional journalistic ethics," McIntyre and Gyldensted write.

"We have […] defined constructive journalism as 'journalism that involves applying positive psychology techniques to news processes and production in an effort to create productive and engaging coverage while holding true to journalism's core functions.'"

Karen McIntyre, Ph.D., and Cathrine Gyldensted

One person whom MNT spoke with emphasized how important news with a positive streak has been when it comes to fighting anxiety that results from negative news.

"[I've been reading] positive news, [which] helps me balance out the negatives, and [it] also provides some actionable ideas. Traditional news tells you about trauma and sometimes points out the ways in which you're complicit, but it doesn't give you the next step."

This person was eager to access news written from different, more constructive perspectives — articles or segments that "provide great examples of people making progressive change, which people can then emulate and feel like they're making a difference."

When the news cycle brings us down with an outpour of calamities, it is crucial to ask ourselves more about our relationship with the news. Why do we access it, and what do we hope to get from this?

When we turn on the news, we must seek to prioritize our own well-being, in order to make positive changes in the world.

Original Article

Medical News Today: Anxiety and loss of appetite: What is the link?

Anxiety commonly causes a change in appetite. Some people with anxiety tend to overeat or consume a lot of unhealthful foods. Others, however, lose their desire to eat when they feel stressed and anxious.

Anxiety is a mental health condition that affects 40 million adults in the United States each year. Changes in appetite are one of many possible symptoms.

Keep reading to learn more about the link between anxiety and a loss of appetite, some potential remedies and treatments for the problem, and some other common causes of appetite loss.

Anxiety and appetite loss

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A loss of appetite is a common symptom when a person feels stressed and anxious.

When someone starts to feel stressed or anxious, their body begins to release stress hormones. These hormones activate the sympathetic nervous system and trigger the body's fight-or-flight response.

The fight-or-flight response is an instinctive reaction that attempts to keep people safe from potential threats. It physically prepares the body to either stay and fight a threat or run away to safety.

This sudden surge of stress hormones has several physical effects. For example, research suggests that one of the hormones — corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) — affects the digestive system and may lead to the suppression of appetite.

Another hormone, cortisol, increases gastric acid secretion to speed the digestion of food so that the person can fight or flee more efficiently.

Other digestive effects of the fight-or-flight response can include:

This response can cause additional physical symptoms, such as an increase in breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure. It also causes muscle tension, pale or flushed skin, and shakiness.

Some of these physical symptoms can be so uncomfortable that people have no desire to eat. Feeling constipated, for example, can make the thought of eating seem very unappetizing.

Overeating vs. appetite loss

People who have persistent anxiety or an anxiety disorder are more likely to have long-term heightened levels of CRF hormones in their system. As a result, these individuals may be more likely to experience a prolonged loss of appetite.

On the other hand, people who experience anxiety less frequently may be more likely to seek comfort from food and overeat. However, everyone reacts differently to anxiety and stress, whether it is chronic or short-term.

In fact, the same person may react differently to mild anxiety and high anxiety. Mild stress may, for example, cause a person to overeat. If that person experiences severe anxiety, however, they may lose their appetite. Another person may respond in the opposite way.

Men and women may also react differently to anxiety in terms of their food choices and consumption.

One study indicates that women may eat more calories when anxious. The study also links higher anxiety with a higher body mass index (BMI) in women but not in men.

Remedies and treatment

Individuals who experience a loss of appetite due to anxiety should take steps to address the issue. Long-term appetite loss can lead to health problems. Potential remedies and treatments include:

1. Understanding anxiety

Simply realizing that sources of stress can trigger physical sensations can go some way toward reducing anxiety and its symptoms.

2. Addressing sources of anxiety

Identifying and dealing with anxiety triggers can sometimes help people regain their appetite. Where possible, individuals should work to eliminate or reduce stressors.

If this proves challenging, a person may wish to consider working with a therapist who can help them manage anxiety triggers.

3. Practicing stress management

Several techniques can effectively reduce or control anxiety symptoms, including appetite loss. Examples include:

  • deep breathing exercises
  • guided imagery practice
  • meditation
  • mindfulness
  • progressive muscle relaxation

Read about some different types of meditation here.

4. Choosing nutritious, easily digestible foods

If people cannot eat much, they should ensure that what they do eat is nutrient-rich. Some good choices include:

  • soups containing a protein source and a variety of vegetables
  • meal-replacement shakes
  • smoothies containing fruits, green leafy vegetables, fat, and protein

It is also a good idea to opt for easily digestible foods that will not further upset the digestive system. Examples include rice, white potato, steamed vegetables, and lean proteins.

People with symptoms of anxiety may also find it beneficial to avoid foods that are high in fat, salt, or sugar, as well as high-fiber foods, which can be difficult to digest.

It can also help to limit the consumption of drinks containing caffeine and alcohol, as these often cause digestive problems.

Learn more about which foods may help with symptoms of anxiety.

5. Eating regularly

Getting into a regular eating pattern can help the body and brain regulate hunger cues.

Even if someone can only manage a few bites at each mealtime, this will be better than nothing. Over time, they can increase the amount that they eat at each sitting.

6. Making other healthful lifestyle choices

When a person is anxious, they may find it difficult to exercise or sleep. However, both sleep and physical activity can reduce anxiety and increase appetite.

Individuals should try to get enough sleep each night by setting a regular sleep schedule.

They should also aim to exercise most days. Even short bursts of gentle exercise can be helpful. People who are new to exercise can start small and increase the duration and intensity of activities over time.

When to see a doctor

People should see a doctor if their appetite loss persists for 2 weeks or more, or if they lose weight rapidly. A doctor can check for an underlying physical condition that may be causing symptoms.

If the loss of appetite is purely a result of stress, a doctor can suggest ways to manage the anxiety, including therapy and lifestyle changes.

They may also prescribe medication to those with chronic or severe anxiety.

Other causes of appetite loss

Anxiety is not the only cause of appetite loss. Other possible causes include:

  • Depression: As with anxiety, feeling depressed can cause a loss of appetite in some people but lead others to overeat.
  • Gastroenteritis: Also known as a stomach bug, gastroenteritis can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite.
  • Medication: Some medications, including antibiotics and certain pain relievers, can reduce appetite. They can also cause side effects that include diarrhea or constipation.
  • Intense exercise: Some people, especially endurance athletes, experience gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and intestinal cramping after periods of intense activity, which may result in a loss of appetite.
  • Pregnancy: Some pregnant women may lose their appetite due to morning sickness or because of pressure on the stomach.
  • Illness: Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes or cancer, can lead to a reduction in appetite.
  • Aging: Appetite loss is common among older adults, possibly due to a loss of taste and smell or because of illness or medication use.

Summary

Anxiety can cause a loss of appetite or an increase in appetite. These effects are primarily due to hormonal changes in the body, but some people may also avoid eating as a result of the physical sensations of anxiety.

Individuals who experience chronic or severe anxiety should see their doctor.

Sometimes, there may be other reasons for appetite loss that also require treatment.

Once a person addresses the anxiety, their appetite will typically return. Without treatment, long-term appetite loss and chronic anxiety can have serious health consequences.

Original Article