Here’s What You Can Do When the World Feels Upside Down

One of the best parts of my job is getting to hear what’s on your mind. Below are answers to three questions I am asked almost every day from patients, family, friends, and this community.

What are the best ways to manage stress?

When the world feels upside down, focus on what you CAN control. What time are you going to bed? Are you engaging in activities that make you feel strong? Are you glued to the news? It’s healthy to talk about what’s going on but remember to talk about other topics as well. Above all, reach out, connect, and be there for each other. The choices you make on a daily basis are the most reliable ways to navigate stressful times.

How do you balance being informed and tuning into the news without letting it completely overwhelm you?

Let’s face it – the news these days is bleak and it’s hard not to become upset or outraged or both. Constantly refreshing your feed, scrolling for more information, or watching your favorite news channel on a loop may give the impression that you’re in the know but actually the opposite is true. Following a breaking event may make you feel more involved but will not make you more informed.

The trick here is to optimize how, when, and from where you’re going to get your news. Here are some strategies anyone can use to keep up without burning out:

Be picky. Designate a time—either once or twice a day—to get your news fix from an established source.

Follow the facts. Skip commentary and media that predict what might happen. Listening to so-called experts weigh in on the future is basically glorified gossip. Read or watch stories that intelligently present digested and reliable information about what happened. Ignore the rest, it’s just noise.

Replace doom scrolling with delight hunting. Be deliberate about generating positive emotions every single day and especially on bad news days. Research shows that the best way not to feel overwhelmed or paralyzed by the barrage of negativity is to counterbalance it with uplifts.

Bottom line: Think of your attention as a flashlight. Where do you want to shine it?

How do we speak to our children about world crises?

When it comes to difficult emotions surrounding world crises, how you talk to your children matters almost as much as what you are talking about. Here are some guidelines that might be helpful:

Take a deep breath. Before engaging your child in conversation about a difficult topic, do your best to be in a calm head space. Your emotions and body language will speak volumes to them. Kids mirror our reactions.

Listen more than you talk. Find out what they know and what their concerns are. Their worries might be quite different from yours, depending on their age, what their friends are talking about, and what they have seen on social media.  Be honest but avoid details, especially with younger kids.

It’s okay to say “I don’t know.” 

I have always found that the most honest conversations take place in the car or walking side by side. Kids are more likely to open up when they are next to you (or behind you in the car), not across from you.

Explore nuance when possible. Resist binary thinking–we miss a lot when we divide  the world between good and bad.

Pay attention to small positive moments in the day. We so easily give our attention away to mindless activities, negative news, and draining social media. Reclaim it. Clock the good moments. Share them. Savor them.

As Mr. Rogers said, Look for the helpers. What are the positive actions your child or your family can take? The act of contributing to something can bring great comfort.

What else is on your mind?

What other questions do you have about countering stress and cultivating wellbeing? Please submit your questions—either in the comments below or by sending me a message. All answers, as always, will be backed by science and research.

I wish you all the best,

Dr. Samantha Boardman