From Hurricanes to Wildfires: How to Cope When You Can’t Handle Any More Bad News

Consuming news about disasters, wildfires, and shootings day in and day out will take an emotional toll on anyone. We’re going to break down what happens to our brains when we see disasters all the time. Then we’ll provide you with tips to ease disaster fatigue. Continue reading to find out what happens to your brain when disaster fatigue strikes and learn what to do when you can’t handle any more bad news.

Disaster fatigue vs. compassion fatigue

man watches approaching fire

Disaster and compassion fatigue are very similar. | Chris Schneider/Getty Images

Compassion fatigue is very similar to disaster fatigue. Psychology Today defines compassion fatigue as secondary stress caused from helping a patient. Nurses, EMTs, and physicians  are just three of the groups who experience compassion fatigue, according to Psychology Today. Disaster fatigue happens when people get “the sense that these events are never-ending, uncontrollable and overwhelming,” The Washington Times says.

What happens to our brains

3D of brain

Tragedy is hard to process. | iStock.com

“It’s too much pain, too much tragedy for someone to process, and so we tend to pull ourselves away from it and either close off from it out of psychological defense, or it overwhelms us,” Cynthia Edwards, a psychology professor at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., told The Washington Times. In short, our brains protect us from harm. The human brain doesn’t want to remember traumatic experiences because they’ll cause psychological damage.

We’re less likely to help

Girl putting items into donation box

You may be less likely to help when there are multiple tragedies going on. | iStock.com

“Hearing about too many disasters makes some people not give at all, when they would have if it had been just one disaster,” Michal Ann Strahilevitz, marketing teacher at Golden State University, told The Washington Times. Strahilevitz specializes in charitable giving. For example, you may have donated to Hurricane Harvey but not any disaster that followed. You may have gotten overwhelmed by the number of disasters. Knowing you can’t donate the same amount of money to each disaster, you may have opted out of donating altogether.

The symptoms

Upset man

You may start to feel more pessimistic than usual. | iStock.com

In addition to sadness and feeling overwhelmed, “people might also experience an increase in stress, depression, exhaustion, sleep problems, anger and growing cynicism,” Dr. Mary McNaughton-Cassill, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, told The New York Times. It’s important to keep an eye on yourself. Every few days, check-in with yourself. See how you’re feeling and take note of any major changes in your mood.

Find a silver lining

Group of people putting their hands in a huddle

Look for something to be grateful for. | LuckyBusiness/iStock/Getty Images

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you see images of destroyed homes, injured people, and abandoned pets on tv and social media. Combat the barrage of devastating images by finding a silver lining. “Look for a silver lining, and try to find something positive to focus on, such as all the people who have helped others during crisis events,” Dr. McNaughton-Cassill told The New York Times. Seeing how people come together to help one another can encourage positivity.

Take time for yourself

Teenager girl with remote control laying down

Find time to relax. | iStock.com/manaemedia

Set aside time to take care of yourself. It can be as simple as applying a face mask before bed. “Taking time out to breathe is important. Taking time for yourself is important. We feel during difficult times that we can’t take time for yourself — but we must so we can care for others,” Dr. Christina Mangurian, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, told The New York Times. Spending time on yourself will improve your self-esteem and encourage a positive attitude.

Get away from the news

Woman looking at her phone while surprised

Sometimes social media is too much. | Fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Imposing a media blackout isn’t necessary. Simply limit the amount of time you spend catching up on current events. Don’t learn about the same disaster on tv, then read about it on Facebook. Turn off news alerts on your phone and and while you’re at it, make it a point to look at your phone less.

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