My bipolar disorder causes me to be more sensitive to what is going on in the world. I am curious, compassionate, and a helper. So, when that news is not just negative but triggering, I need to set boundaries and try to avoid a depressive episode.
The United States is going through challenging circumstances right now. We have sickness, violence, political unrest, and injustices. These issues are all over the news and social media. Everywhere we turn, it’s something else—someone else saying what they believe to be true and that everyone else’s opinions are wrong. All this information can take a negative turn, quickly. For me, it can be (and has been) a trigger for depression.
I do not want to discuss or debate any particular topic, and I will not go into how I feel about any specific issue that is affecting our nation. In my experience, my trigger is often the negative media environment overall. It can feel like there is no way to get around or avoid this media coverage, since it is on our television screens and in the apps on our phones. But, for the sake of my own stability, I must figure out a way to deal with the media’s impact on my mental well-being. Here is why the news media triggers my bipolar mood episodes—and how I combat it.
Feeling Helpless & a Lack of Power or Control
With all of the national issues I mentioned above, it seems like it’s always one side again another. One party feels like they are right, and the other feels the same, with no compromise to be seen. The media suggests that no one is getting along, and it feels as if our nation is not united in any way.
These situations are played out on television news, in articles, and through social media posts. I know that there are two sides to every story, no matter what. However, facing all of these competing viewpoints can make me feel like I am helpless. Why? Because I can’t stop what is happening. I can’t go and solve of these huge social problems.
This feeling of helplessness hurts me to the core. Because information is everywhere, I often feel as if I don’t have control. I do know that I have control over my own little slice of the world. But I want to be in control in general. It is part of who I am. I feel that if I am in control, I can fix things and help people.
So, nowadays, I feel extremely sad, anxious, and heartbroken when faced with the onslaught of negative news media. My stress level goes through the roof, and all I want to do is clam up and lie in bed with the covers over my head.
The question is, What can I do to not be triggered?
And, really, there’s only one solution: Turn off the news and social media outlets.
To protect my emotional state and allow myself to continue functioning (rather than curling up and shutting out the wider world), I watch the news briefly for the weather and just a few minutes of the highlights.
Otherwise, I am not watching the news. I cannot put myself through this mental strain.
That said, it’s not easy!
The Added Complications of Curiosity, Impulsivity, and Compassion
One of my personality traits that complicates this situation is that I am curious about things. I wanted to be educated about what is going on in this world. I want to know how the world is functioning. I don’t want to be left in the dark.
However, there is a breaking point. Mine is when this need to know about what is going on starts to affect me in a negative way. Then I know that it is time to change how I digest social media and the news.
Watching Videos Despite Content Warnings
Social media is filled with videos and links to websites that can have graphic content. When I scroll through my News Feed and see a video with a compelling headline but also a warning that the information is graphic, I find myself grappling with both curiosity and impulsivity.
I see the warning … and I click on it anyway.
Without fail, after watching it, I feel saddened and horrified. I ask myself, “Why did you click on that? You knew it would be difficult to watch!”
The reason is, again, that I am curious, and the pull of impulsivity is strong. My curiosity can get the best of me, and that’s when I regret my decision.
In these situations, I end up watching videos and reading articles that reveal the darkness that is in this world. Two topics I am especially affected by are when people and children are suffering. I feel so deeply for them. This is when my compassion and curiosity work together (seemingly against me), and I feel compelled to click.
From Compassion & Curiosity to Depression
I know I don’t live in a bubble where everything is puppies and ice cream, but some of the content spread through social media and covered the news could be pulled straight out of a horror movie. And the results are strong: I feel scared, sad, and unable to help. If I sit with these feelings too long, dwelling on the painful realization that there are horrible people in this world, I feel as if my soul is being crushed.
From there, it’s not too big a leap to depression.
That is when I feel as if the weight of the world is on my shoulders … and I can’t figure out how to let it go.
Finding the Willpower to “Turn Off”
Being bipolar makes me more sensitive to what is going on in this world. As I mentioned, the only way to get out of a depressive mood state resulting from social media is to stay away from triggering articles and videos. It is not an immediate fix; after all, I can’t “unsee” or “unread” something.
Quite the opposite. Often, I feel like it’s burned into my mind forever. The consequence of engaging with triggering media is that these thoughts will stay with me. When I accept that reality, I am able to make myself not watch and not read.
Curiosity, Compassion, and CAUTION
Of course, news media and social media have a place in our society and serve a purpose. They provide knowledge of what is happening in the wider world, weather updates, and breaking news. However, if these trigger you, too, we must apply limits and set boundaries in our lives.
What works best for me is (1) to limit my time spent watching the news and (2) to not follow some pages on social media that could send me into another depressive episode.
The best advice I can give, based on my experiences, is that if you find yourself struggling like I do, limit your time and exposure to the negative news. Focus on the good news stories. Keep yourself informed, but do not become obsessed with what piques your curiosity and stirs your compassion. Remember, for every scary, horrible, or stressful news story, there is a good one, too.
The world may seem “crazy,” but we don’t need to drive ourselves into bipolar mood episodes because of it.
Jessica Taylor lives in the Tampa Bay area. She has an MBA from Western Governors University and a BS in accounting from the University of South Florida. She was diagnosed with bipolar II in 2016, at age 35. She has been with the love of her life for almost two decades. A corporate accountant who found her passion for this career in 2004, Jessica is also an avid outdoorsman. She loves Jesus and spending time with her family. Her hope is to shine a light on living with bipolar from what she has learned.
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