Heavy Hearts: How to Deal With and Process Traumatic Events in the News

Cultural Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following article may contain references to deceased persons and pays respects to both the past and present cultural protocols that we are responsible for upholding.  


The 2020 news cycle has begun with sombre stories from all sides. From the devastating Australian Bushfires to missile threats between the United States of America and Iran, the Climate Crisis, legislative attacks on the freedoms of marginalised Australians and the loss of life in both the Brisbane community and Academic community, opening a news article can come with a barrage of tragedy that deeply affects us as people. It is natural to be empathetic to these tragedies across the country and the world, that is what makes us human. However, this constant flow of upsetting and dire news can cause more than just shock; the news we read can leave us with symptoms of grief and trauma. Even though we are physically removed from the trauma, studies show that we experience a great deal of emotional distress from learning of the details. This is exacerbated by our access to the news in the form of online, print, social media, podcasts, radio and email.   

So, in the wake of trauma and tragedy in our newsfeeds, how is the average person expected to cope? Shouldn’t we be trying to be informed citizens, aware of our surroundings?  

The answer is much greyer than you would think.   

American Psychologist, Nina Rifkind, says that “While keeping informed and knowledgeable about the issues that affect us is important, staying well informed doesn’t necessarily provide a sense of comfort or stability.” Her work in the USA focuses on the trauma the American population collectively experience in the wake of mass shootings and natural disasters like the California Fires and Hurricanes. This research rings true in Australia, witresearch out of UQ say that the emerging narrative surrounding climate change in Australia has sparked existential dread in the Australian population, especially within young people and their parents. Recent events in Brisbane have produced an astounding outpour of grief and conversation surrounding mental health, particularly in the academic and LGBTQIA+ community.     

If you suspect you may not be coping well with what you’re reading on the news, here are some of the most common signs, according to Professor McFarlane from the University of Adelaide:   

  • Difficulties with concentration and focus;  
  • Ongoing sleeping issues;  
  • Persistent anger or irritability;  
  • Prolonged feelings of anxiety;  
  • Constant thinking about recent events and guilt about said events.   

If you think the news may be affecting you more severely than normal, speak to a close friend or partner about it to see if they have noticed any changes in your behaviour or mental state. Often the people closest to us can tell if something is happening underfoot in your mental state.   

Tangible ways to Cope with Traumatic News

Ways to cope with this will vary person to person, but here are some resources which may help. Everyone at GLASS wants to say, we love and support you, dear reader.

Start with Yourself  

It is easy to dive into a support role for others who are sharing the same vicarious stress and trauma as you. It is good to reach out to friends and know you are not alone, however, when you also need support, it may not be the healthiest thing for you at that moment. Take on only what you can, and let your friends know if what they need is beyond your capacity to provide. They will understand.   

Get out of your Echo Chamber  

We exist in social media bubbles, with thousands of things flowing in and out of our group chats and newsfeeds every day. With this, the news is often presented to us over and over with articles being shared about triggering events left and right. This constant flow of information can sometimes be salt in the wound, further worrying you and opening you up to the same feelings of anxiety when you open a group chat or page. Take a time out by leaving a group or unfollowing for a while, explaining that there’s no animosity between you and the other group members, but that you must take some time for yourself. Similarly, consider unliking news pages and limiting your exposure to news that may upset you.  

Speak with a Mental Health Professional  

Speaking to a psychologist or counsellor can help you to process your feelings and talk about them in a confidential, safe space with a trained professional. For those who have not accessed a mental health professional, the experience can be quite daunting at first, however, is very rewarding for your mental health. QUT offers free Counselling services for QUT Students, which can be accessed here.   

Distract Yourself  

Feelings of anxiety can release stress hormones in the body, such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are designed to help you in the ‘fight or flight’ scenario and sitting with them can cause you serious stress and further anxiety. Try to go for a walk or run when you have these feelings, or even a few jumps or squats to try and burn some of the pent-up energy. After this, trying to calm yourself with things you like such as books or music makes for a great moment of escapism from your current worries (Author’s Note: Late Night Therapy by flowerkid and Go Father in Lightness by Gang of Youths are my songs of choice.)    

Try to Help the Cause when you Can, but Avoid Overwhelm

Particularly with the bushfire crisis, volunteering, signing petitions, protesting and donating are all fantastic, tangible ways to help. However, be cautious of not straining or overwhelming yourself. Those helping on the frontlines are prone to burnout and the feeling that they are not doing enough to help people who have had tragic things happen to them. Your feeling of helplessness is valid and can overwhelm you. A thought to hold on to is that as long as there are people in the world, like you, who care so deeply about the world getting better, it can.   

Emergency Contacts  

If you are feeling like you are experiencing a crisis, do not wait. We are in tumultuous times, and sometimes our feelings of guilt, anxiety and trauma can take us to a bad headspace. Call the following numbers if you are struggling, the people on the other end of the line will help you.   


Lifeline TEXT Service: 0477 13 11 14   6PM-Midnight (AEDT)  

Lifeline: 13 11 14  

Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800  

MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978  

Suicide Callback Service: 1300 659 467  

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 46 36  

Headspace: 1800 650 890  

QLife: 1800 184 527  

Miscellaneous Services: askizzy.org.au  

I (Em) and the others at GLASS hope this helps you and encourage you to send this article to anyone you know who may need it. Look after yourselves and one another, GLASS loves and cares about you.  

Em Readman
Em Readman

Em Readman is a writer from Meanjin who lives in Boorloo. She has been published in Aniko Press, the Suburban Review, Bowen St Press, Baby Teeth Arts, and others. They were an editor of Glass Magazine in 2020 and 2021, and won the 2022 Blue Knot Foundation Award with the Hunter Writer's Centre.

Articles: 64

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