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Current Affairs & Psychological Distress

January 2, 2016

 

We can all relate to logging onto news feeds first thing each day of late to be met with distressing, graphic detail of events happening in our own backyards and abroad.

For many, we are becoming desensitised to the traumatic events that are taking place, but for others, the flood of negative reporting and information can be distressing and unsettling. Conversations may consume your water-cooler chats, online news feeds remind you each day at your desk, or your social media may be flooded with fierce debate or devastating stories or causes seeking your support.

Dealing with distress is difficult, it can really hijack our ability to think clearly and rationally.

Sadly it seems bad news and fear sells papers and increases ratings – so how do we filter or cope with the influx of the distressing, fear-raising news that surrounds us each day?

The consequences of fear and distress can be really unhealthy for your well-being. It can embed strong feelings of anger, anxiety, stress reactions or intensify your perceptions of the world around you and leave you unable to function in ways you used to with ease.

Psychological distress is a general term used to describe unpleasant feelings or emotions that impact your level of functioning. In other words, it is psychological discomfort that interferes with your activities of daily living. Psychological distress can result in negative views of the environment, others, and the self. Sadness, anxiety, distraction, and symptoms of mental illness are manifestations of psychological distress.

No two people will experience distress the same way – but symptoms may include obsessive thoughts or compulsions, decreased pleasure in things you used to enjoy, anger management, interrupted sleep, weight gain or depression and increased levels of anxiety.

The Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, commonly known as the K10 is a simple questionnaire used by psychologists to yield a global measure of distress based on questions about anxiety and depressive symptoms that a person has experienced in the most recent four week period.

However, for those that have not engaged with professional support, there are some simple ways to identify and manage the fear or emotions that might be associated with the traumatic domestic and international news we are absorbing each day.

Here are some simple points that may assist with managing fear or distress:

  • Learn to distinguish between real and imagined fear 

  • Consume news reports in a critical and evaluative frame of mind

  • Introduce rationale into your feelings/emotions

  • Focus on what you do want, instead of what you don’t want to see – if you don’t want to be exposed to negative news, reset your homepage, don’t engage in the social media debates, or seek out positive news or people, or support networks.

  • Get connected – to the point above, being alone can intensify our feelings and isolation is a friend of negativity. Reach out to connections, family and friends.

  • Exercise the distress – movement and exercise is integral in most psychological treatments. When we’re highly stressed, moving around and raising your heart rate can help shift our mood, and re frame our thinking. It might be a simple walk at lunch to remove yourself from the intensity of a situation, or a stretch at night if you’re having trouble sleeping.

  • Be kind to yourself and others – with the pace of modern life, it’s easy to assign judgement and move on. Be kind and nurturing, acknowledge and validate how you may be feeling and treat yourself and others with compassion.

  • Mindfulness and practical techniques – put yourself in the here and now. Focus on what is going on around you, what is good or safe or kind in your world. Remember a favourite thing, song or place. Essentially take yourself out of the dangerous and negative and to a place of connectedness and safety.

  • Remove yourself – Switch off the TV, the news feed, the water cooler analysis. Take the time to listen to music, read a book, enjoy the views out of the train instead of bleak news on your smart phone every spare second.


Dealing with distress isn't easy. In the virtual world it’s basically impossible to escape.  In fact many of us might not even realise the toll that the daily newsfeed is taking on us. However, take a step back and assess. You can switch off and turn to many healthy, compassionate strategies for support. 

Matt Dale is a registered, practicing Psychologist and full Member of the Australian Psychological Society – working in the private counselling and organisational sector. 

To contact Matt phone (07) 3852 2441 or info@incorporatepsychology.com.au

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