In our modern world, there are many stressors and sources of anxiety. Global events, health-related issues and an overload of information from social media can add up quickly. And all of this can create overwhelming stress.
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“News has become more continual and more immediate,” says psychologist Matthew Sacco, PhD. “It’s harder now to step away from the digital world. The constant stream of information is changing what we’re exposed to and what our brains are doing.”
Stress from information overload can have serious consequences. High stress can lead to a variety of health issues like high blood pressure and nausea. But Dr. Sacco explains that just as the world is changing, our tools for dealing with stress are changing, too. Stressors can come from an array of sources daily, so it’s important to find ways to manage stress day by day.
“We are inundated with so many things, not just the news,” says Dr. Sacco. “We’re inundated with our own personal things that are going on, which on their own aren’t overwhelming. But over the course of time, when your brain is processing all this information — eventually, you do start to feel it.”
Dr. Sacco shares tips and tools that can be used during times of high stress.
Limit social media and doomscrolling
We’ve all been there. When a major news event or crisis happens, many of us turn to our phones, internet searches and social media feeds to feel informed. But unchecked, this habit can lead to doomscrolling — the act of subjecting yourself to a constant stream of negative or stressful news from social media. This can lead to burnout and feeling overstimulated, so it’s important to set limits.
While you might feel a deep desire to stay informed — about global events, gas prices and local news — setting boundaries around how much information you take in is important. According to Dr. Sacco, something as simple as getting a notification that reminds you how long you’ve been staring at your screen can help you stop the doomscrolling cycle. If even small doses of screen time cause you stress, you might want to make an even greater effort to get your phone out of the picture.
“It’s all about finding a balance because there’s certainly an amount of being aware of what’s going on in the world, as things do change day to day,” says Dr. Sacco. “But being mindful of your reaction to those things is important.”
How to reduce stress from the news
When it comes down to it, there may be some days when it’s hard to escape the negative or overwhelming news on your screen. Take stock of your reactions and how you’re feeling. Then, Dr. Sacco recommends focusing on what you can control.
“Being mindful, first of how you react and how you can adjust what’s coming into your system, that’s the only thing you really can control,” he says.
- Set limits on screen time. A good way to relieve stress from overuse of social media is to set intentional limits. According to Dr. Sacco, self-discipline goes a long way in creating a better balance with how we consume media. “It seems silly but if you’re struggling in these areas, then it’s absolutely necessary to be able to set some of those limits on yourself, and maybe get some support,” he adds.
- Get involved. Stepping away from your television or smartphone and going into your community to help can be a proactive way to find stress relief. “Volunteering in general is a great way to feel like you’re doing something to give back to the greater good,” says Dr. Sacco. “It’s a more intentional way to find the good things and feel good about yourself, rather than to passively consume information that’s coming in.”
- Find time for yourself. Being gentle with yourself is key. Whether it’s finding time with family or other moments in your personal life, this can be an intentional way to control your surroundings and make them positive. “You may not be able to do anything other than put your shoes on, put a coat on, and go hit the Metro Park for an hour,” says Dr. Sacco. “It may be going out to your garden, or it may be a game night with your family where everything’s turned off.”
- Be mindful of who you’re around. According to Dr. Sacco, another stress element is the people we surround ourselves with. Even if you make a point to put down your phone, the discussion of stressful topics may still pop up in conversations with certain people. “If there are people in your life or in your family, friends or circle that will ramp you up, then eliminate some of those contact points.”
Handling pandemic-related stress and news
The last two years of the ongoing pandemic have caused additional stress and anxiety for many people. Now, as society begins to open back up, readjusting to past activities can bring another layer of stress. Normal things such as grabbing dinner with friends or going to concerts can be hard to go back to with comfort.
If you’re struggling with the return of pre-pandemic activities and gatherings, Dr. Sacco recommends easing back into group settings in a way that’s good both for your physical and mental well-being. This means surrounding yourself with those in your life who’ll respect your boundaries related to the pandemic and COVID-19 safety measures.
“If you’re going to get back socially to being in groups, you probably want to start with the group of people you’re most comfortable with,” advises Dr. Sacco.