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Current Events and Anxiety: Is The World As Dangerous as It Seems?

Current Events and Anxiety: Is The World As Dangerous as It Seems?

TV news reports, internet headlines and social media posts blare violence, disaster and political dissent 24/7. If you're like most people, you spend at least a few hours a day reading these tales of danger and strife. How do news reports and social media affect our mental well-being and spark our anxiety over what may or may not happen in our lives?

When we hear about events halfway around the world, we wonder if it will affect us or our loved ones, but feel powerless to do anything about it. Events in our city or community make us concerned about our safety, and we may even take steps to protect ourselves and our families.

Earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes make us wonder if natural disasters can occur in our city. And constant bickering about politics on social media make us fearful and may even cause friends and family members to stop talking to one another.

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How Dangerous is the World Compared to the Past?

But how dangerous is the United States, and the world, compare to decades or centuries past?  

Warfare has traditionally been the most prolific killer of humankind. Even though all the news accounts you hear today about war and possible wars make it seem like an extremely violent time, the late 20th century had much more conflict than the present. Statistics from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program show that wars have decreased by 40% since the end of the Cold War.

In the U.S., the overall crime rate is going down.

In 2013, the Pew Research Center announced that there was a drop in crime since the 1990s, but you wouldn't know it from all the outrage on Facebook and other social media outlets.

Good news doesn't make headlines; disaster and scandal do. According to data, most countries have experienced an overall reduction in the homicide rate since the early 1990s, and violence against women has declined, due to new laws and attitudes about domestic violence. You won't hear about these statistics in the media, but you will hear about a football player abusing his girlfriend because it brings in clicks and ratings.  

When you hear news about abducted or bullied children, consider this. For decades, these types of stories were ignored by the news media and they weren't even talked about in extended families. They were too unsavory and uncomfortable to even discuss (or considered private family business) so the abuse continued. New attitudes have brought these issues into public consciousness, and they are reported and addressed. Things seemed safer in the past because bullying and abuse went unreported.

Certain areas of the world are more dangerous than others, such as Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, but aside from war zones and drug killings, even those areas aren't as bad as in previous decades.  Unless you live in, or are planning to visit, these places, it shouldn't be a concern for you. As always, you can give to vetted charities if you want to help war-torn areas, but worrying about violence in far-away lands won't make it go away and will rob you of peace of mind.

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Dealing with Anxiety

Anxiety over anything can interfere with concentration, memory and decision-making ability. Worry over world events we can't control is much worse than worrying over personal matters.

You can take precautions to safeguard your home, improve your health or learn a new skill, but you have little individual power to change current events, (aside from voting, writing your political representatives or volunteering). As an individual, you may feel helpless that you can't do something immediately to change the situation or protect your family.

When you become too worried about world events, it can cause paranoia, depression, isolation and loss of interest in previous activities and causes.

In the 1950s, '60 and ‘70s, people read daily newspapers, monthly magazines, watched three TV networks and listened to local radio stations that played mostly music. Aside from an occasional weather bulletin or other news that affected people in the viewing or listening area, news was kept to a minimum.

You didn't automatically know about what happened in China or Russia or the even neighborhood on the other side of the railroad tracks. If there were problems in the neighborhood, you'd find out from other neighbors and everyone helped each other.

After cable news came on the scene, people could be more aware of everything going on in the world. Once the internet took hold, being well-informed soon turned into being over-informed and distracted.

Now the worst problems in every part of the world become our problems when we read it on the internet or see it on cable TV. Constantly being bombarded with tweets and posts about world calamities (that may or may not be true) from online friends we'll never meet in person or even email privately consumes much of our leisure time.

People who are sensitive or easily distracted may neglect some of their personal activities to disseminate or receive information that has no relevance to them or anyone they know in real life.

Does it affect you personally, family, friends, co-workers or neighbors? If not, you really shouldn't give it more than a passing glance.

Use common sense when reading anything on the internet, not just news stories. Well-meaning self-help programs with high price tags can make you feel worse than you did before joining. News about the latest fashion trends can lure you into expensive purchases, and participating in the latest YouTube challenges can kill gullible teens. If you're a parent, monitor your child's internet usage, or better yet, encourage them to spend more time outside, interacting with real-life friends.

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Could It Happen To Me?

Anything is possible, but most things are not probable. Everyday you take a chance when you step out your front door. You could get hit by a car, but you could also meet the love of your life.  Even if you stay indoors and never deal with other people, you could still slip and fall in the bathtub. Avoiding potential bad things is the same as avoiding life as a whole.

The statistical chance of being involved in a mass shooting or terrorist attack is minuscule. You have a one in 110, 154 chance of being in a mass shooting. The chance of dying from a sharp object is three times greater, and you have a one in 113 chance of dying in a car crash. There's a one in seven chance of dying from heart disease. You have a greater chance of being killed by falling furniture than dying in a terrorist attack

Don't let the latest catastrophic current event prevent you from living your life and doing what you want to do.

Forgo Rigid Life Rules

Rigid life rules cause low self esteem like “I should make a million dollars by the time I'm 30 or “I'm a failure if I don't get that promotion.” All or nothing thinking makes anxiety worse. Your life is either perfect or disastrous; the world is safe and cozy or an all-out war zone with nothing in between.

People who have perfectionist tendencies may also look to other people, and social media, for validation. Worrying about what others think about you wreaks havoc with your nerves and self-esteem. You are constantly worrying about whether you are good enough.

Although your upbringing, relationships and other elements determine whether you are an “all or nothing” perfectionist, reading certain types of news stories about how to dress, cook, shop, etc. can make this tendency even worse. Loosen up your perfectionist tendencies by concentrating on your real social circle, not the pretend one on social media, or on trends recounted in news stories.

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How to Control Current Events Anxiety

Anxiety over world events is caused by the belief that you can control those events. The more you hold on to the idea that you can control uncontrollable events, the more anxious you feel. This illusion happens when you try to control events or people in your own life.

Learn how to take control of your own life – your finances, your family, and your relationships. Make your home, car and property as safe as you can. If you're worried about natural disasters, buy a survival kit. Then concentrate on what you have accomplished. You're doing everything you can to make your life easier and more secure. The rest is out of your control.

Focus your attention in the present. Many people waste a lot of time thinking about what might go wrong or the bad things that happened in the past. All worry does is waste your time. It won't stop bad things from happening or change past disappointments. Doing this is hard, but with repeated effort, you'll learn to live in the present. Meditating and keeping a journal can help you conquer anxiety and stay in the present moment.

Limit your exposure to news and social media. Take a break from casual internet browsing for a day or even a week and concentrate on your family, friends and hobbies. Staying connected with people in the real world.

Control your social media use. Getting off Facebook entirely is one of the best ways to avoid political arguments and anxiety due to world events. While other social media sites and message forums contain heated arguments, Facebook seems to be the worst offender. If you don't want to leave Facebook, unfriend combative people and block them.

It may take some time to change your TV and Smartphone habits, but reducing your exposure slightly will renew your peace of mind. Look at your life as a whole – and the world situation as a whole and you'll be able to control your anxiety better.

Instead of checking Facebook one more time, listen to music that makes you happy or call a good friend. The more you concentrate on your immediate circle of friends and activities the happier you'll be.

Food, Vitamins and Supplements to Relieve Anxiety

Too much anxiety, whatever the cause, results in fatigue, tight muscles, insomnia or hypersomnia, heart palpitations and other physical symptoms that could lead to chronic illness.  

Take care of your health. Eat fruits, vegetables and organically-raised meats. Exercise, even if you just take a walk a few times a week. Inactivity and a poor diet filled with processed foods make you more susceptible to depression and disease. If you are weak and disoriented due to your lifestyle choices, the bad news filtered through the media will disturb you – and you'll probably read more of it.

Eating healthy doesn't only improve your physical health. It calms you down, gives you focus and makes you better able to control the stressors in your life – and ignore the imagined ones that bother many other people. Beef, pork, chicken, oranges and leafy greens contain B vitamins and other nutrients to keep you calm.

The magnesium in Swiss chard and spinach strengthen muscles while steadying your nerves, and the tryptophan in turkey is a precursor to serotonin, the neurotransmitter that keeps you calm. And you can always drink chamomile tea to unwind after a busy day.

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