Between Hurricane Sandy, the election and everyday drama, watching the news can easily trigger feelings of stress for me. Are you feeling it, too? By design, the media over-dramatizes events in order to hook the audience, whether there is validity to the sensationalism or not. Notice the energy of a news broadcast -- it's the energy of stress meant to trigger emotional reactions. If we participate by consuming this media regularly, we can find ourselves living in a stress bath. No, thanks!
When we internalize these nerve-wracking ideas and beliefs, we can experience anger, frustration, anxiety, worry or fear. It's such a tendency to think we're being productive somehow when we're upset, but it actually reduces our capacity to effect productive change. When people get scared or fall into despair, they often feel paralyzed, experience cognitive shut down and can't make good decisions. And stressful feelings experienced regularly don't just go away -- they accumulate. Continuously amping up negative emotions releases excessive levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline throughout the body, creating hormonal imbalances and heart rhythm patterns that are jagged and irregular. We may not sleep as well, feel confused and tired or on edge, have brain fog, and our immune system may become suppressed. The long-play version of this can cause a cascade of physical health symptoms including headaches, gastrointestinal disorders, stress eating, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, panic attacks, depression, and insomnia -- chronic modern diseases.
The impact on the heart is another factor. Emotionally, the heart shuts down, which creates jams in communication with others so we don't feel as connected, which can lead to loneliness, which loops the cycle of even more stress. On the physical level, this may lead to a heart attack.
When people watch or read news that upsets them, what do they often do? They tell their family and friends, spreading drama like an emotional virus so more people get upset. We are unwittingly co-creating a culture of stress and social media is accelerating it by making it even more personally potent and easier to do. We all have someone in our lives that sends the Chicken-Little-sky-is-falling emails or Facebook posts regularly. For many of us, the stress bath emotional state has become the norm, so learning how to manage our reactions to news has never been more vital to our health and relationships.
Even as a longtime meditator and psychologist, I was not immune to this influence either. It wasn't until I got tired of yo-yoing between feeling peace and joy in my twice-daily meditation practice and feeling the stress overload of my work day in between that I found a new way to respond to stress. I began using the simple HeartMath tools to learn how to release a stress reaction in the moment to regain balance and perceive a more appropriate response to the situation that prevents stress accumulation. I was so impressed with the results that I made my mission getting HeartMath tools to millions of others.
Here are some effective ways to reduce your stress around the news:
Occasionally go on a media diet. Yep, just turn it off. You'll be happier, guaranteed.
Try to catch the stress response when it first starts. The earlier you stop it, the less damage it can do and the sooner you can start feeling optimal again. The more I practice this, the faster I get at noticing and diffusing it.
Don't add excessive drama to others by spreading the emotional virus via social media posts or email that might trigger their stress response.
Acknowledge the victims in the news story. Don't feel helpless or go into pity; rather, send compassion to them. It's normal to experience emotions -- don't suppress them -- but it's what you do with those feelings that makes all the difference. Connect with your heart and channel the energy into something proactive and productive. If you're inspired to contribute more, say a donation or volunteering, that will help reduce your personal stress and add to the greater good, which will reduce others' stress.
Find an attitude replacement. If your habit is being edgy with people, try practicing kindness toward them with genuine intent instead. Once you have committed to your replacement attitude, allow the feeling of it to come in until the resistance to losing the old one clears.
Learn a lightning-fast HeartMath tool to reduce stress in just a few minutes or less with Heart-Focused Breathing from Part 1 of this series.
Try using the emWave, a HeartMath technology and patented process, to create an optimal state in which the heart, mind and emotions are operating in sync and balanced. Your heart rhythm patterns display in real time showing you when you are in this high performance state, what HeartMath calls coherence.
Give yourself and others more compassion. This brings heart rhythms back into balance and reduces stress for those you treat kindly, as well.
When you manage stress real-time, the energy saved helps restore your balance, clarity and positive initiative. Take care not to judge yourself if you slip backward into drama at times. It's okay -- we all do. Just reinstate your heart commitment to practice, and then move on. Each small effort you make really helps.
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For more on stress, click here.
Deborah Rozman, Ph.D., is president and CEO of HeartMath LLC, located in Boulder Creek, California. HeartMath provides scientifically-validated and market-validated tools and technologies that activate the intelligence and power of the heart to dramatically reduce stress while empowering health, performance and behavioral change in individuals and organizations. HeartMath's award winning emWave® technologies monitor and provide real time feedback on heart rhythm (HRV) coherence levels, an important indicator of mental and emotional state. HeartMath also offers training and certification programs for organizations, health professionals and coaches, and a self-paced online personal development program called HeartMastery for individuals.
Dr. Rozman has been a psychologist in research and practice, entrepreneur and business executive for over 30 years. She was founding executive director of the Institute of HeartMath, and now serves on the Institute's Scientific Advisory Board and Global Coherence Initiative Steering Committee. She is co-author with HeartMath founder Doc Childre of the Transforming series of books (New Harbinger Publications): Transforming Anger, Transforming Stress, Transforming Anxiety and Transforming Depression. She is a key spokesperson on heart intelligence and the role of the heart in stress management, performance and wellness.
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