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Hit pause, if only for a moment – it’s okay to look away

As the crisis in Israel continues to unfold, countless headlines, images and videos mean the horror of war is closer than many of us have ever experienced before. The grief and panic is – rightly - overwhelming. It overwhelms our hearts and minds; our humanity; our capacity to understand and make sense.

From the safety and comfort of our homes, consumed by fear for loved ones near and far, it can be difficult to look away from the images that overwhelm us.

To find it impossible to switch off is natural and human. We may feel it is the least we can do when our brothers and sisters in Israel face horrors that cannot be comprehended. The compulsion to watch; the guilt of survival; the visceral need to bear witness - are all real and known.

But when it threatens to overwhelm our wellbeing, there is often little to be gained – and much to be lost. This is when finding the balance between staying informed and engaged, and harmful distress, becomes crucial.

Below are some strategies to support healthier media use and wellbeing as we move through these challenging days.

Check in

Check in with yourself regularly to monitor how you are coping.

You might consider questions like:

  • Am I feeling better or worse after checking the news?
  • Is staying connected helping me right now?
  • Is there another way I could use this time/energy to help those affected?
  • Am I balancing news/social media with other regular activities?
  • Am I also following accounts that help me to feel positive and hopeful?
  • Is there something else I could do in this moment to care for myself?
  • If you notice your distress is increasing or overwhelming, it may be time to take a break or set some limits.

Set limits

Be purposeful rather than passive in your media consumption.

The 24-hour news cycle and constant access to social media offers a relentless stream of information and images, making it easy to get caught in endless scrolling and lose track of time. Many of these accounts are raw and graphic, without the usual editorial oversight – in short, they are more painful than we can bear. Coupled with the constant buzz of WhatsApp messages and notifications, we can wind up completely consumed and overwhelmed.

Setting limits around phone and media use can be a helpful way of managing the impacts. For example:

  • Set timers on apps like Instagram and Facebook to remind you to take regular breaks
  • Remove social media shortcuts from your home screen to minimise frequent or habitual checking
  • Mute or pause push notifications
  • Use filters or parental controls to minimise your exposure to highly graphic content
  • Reassure yourself that it’s okay to pause or unfollow accounts that are difficult to manage
  • Designate certain times of day for checking the news – for instance, half an hour in the morning and evening – rather than constantly monitoring throughout the day and night
  • Try leaving your phone out of sight or in a different room at regular intervals

If you feel you must have the news on in the background, try watching it on mute. If you are a particularly visual person, you might find it helpful to listen via radio rather than television or online.

Notice the urge to scroll

Try to bring an element of mindfulness to your browsing.

With algorithms designed to engage, it’s easy to feel that the urge to consume media is in control of us, rather than the other way around. Try to notice – and sit with – the impulse to check news and socials, rather than automatically reaching for your phone or feeling compelled to watch or read every single story.

‘Grounding’ activities soothe the nervous system and can be useful in sitting with this discomfort. You might like to try one of the below strategies:

  • Gently place your hand against your heart
  • Consciously drop your shoulders; tell yourself to move your shoulders down away from your ears
  • Take three slow, deep breaths
  • Cross your arms over your chest and use your palms to apply some deep pressure to the outside of your arms. Gradually move from the upper arm down to the elbow
  • Feel your feet against the ground. Try pushing the soles of your feet into the floor, or wiggling your toes
  • Notice your surroundings. Try naming to yourself three things you can see, hear and feel.

Be gentle with yourself

The constant exposure to distressing media can overwhelm our ability to cope. Difficult though it may be – and it’s normal and common to feel guilty - give yourself permission to focus on your wellbeing.

Reassure yourself that it is okay to choose to look away. It does not mean that you are not compassionate, or caring, or deeply affected by what is happening. It does not mean that you are ‘in denial’.  It just means that you are human.

Take a break from conversations

Right now, it can feel like the events in Israel are the focus of every conversation. While we are understandably consumed by what’s happening, it’s also okay to set boundaries with family, friends and colleagues – particularly if conversations are hurting rather than helping.

This might sound like:

  • “I want to be supportive, but I’m feeling especially overwhelmed today – would it be okay to talk about this with someone else?”
  • “I need to step away for a bit to protect myself – I’m going to be off socials for a little while.”
  • “I’m struggling at the moment. I’m going to check my phone less often to see if that helps. I might be slower to respond to messages.”
  • “I appreciate you sharing, but I’m not always able to talk about this. Would you mind checking in with me first to see if I’m in the right space to listen?”
  • “This is all so painful; I don’t think I can be in these conversations right now. I need to step away for a bit to look after myself and my family. I hope you can respect where I’m coming from.”
  • “I get that you need to watch the news right now. I also know that I need to take a break. If you can’t use headphones, then I’ll go and read in the other room for a little while.”
  • “This isn’t helping me right now. I’m going to step away. Thanks for understanding.”

This could also include non-verbal boundaries, like muting the notifications on WhatsApp groups and checking only at designated times, or pausing or unfollowing certain social media accounts.

Acknowledge your feelings

You might notice a lot of “big feelings” spilling over - both yours and others. Know that it is normal and expected to feel a whole range of emotions right now – angry, afraid, sad, numb, helpless, guilty. Rather than always pushing these feelings away, try allowing them space to be. Focus on finding ways to soothe yourself, such as the grounding techniques listed above.

Labelling emotions – also known as ‘name it to tame it’ – can be helpful. You might try naming these feelings quietly to yourself:

  • “I’m so angry right now – and that’s okay.”
  • “I feel really helpless. It’s really hard to feel this way.”
  • “I’m overwhelmed. I’m scared. I feel so incredibly sad.”
  • “It makes complete sense that I’m feeling like this.”
  • “I’m allowed to feel this way. How can I care for myself right now?”

Nourish your mind

Much as we would look after our physical health, with sleep, food and movement, remember to care for your mind as well. Find opportunities to engage with sights, sounds and experiences that feel soothing and offer some respite from the heartbreak of your newsfeed.

Hug a pet. Dig in the garden. Paint a picture. Go for a walk. Sit in the sun. Play music. Knead dough. Listen to a podcast. Read something light-hearted. Watch mindless TV.

What works varies from person to person. You know yourself best.

Use your energy

When we feel helpless, grasping the news offers a semblance of control - but can quickly leave us feeling worse. Stepping away from the news can create space and energy for other opportunities to engage. The ability to disconnect is a privilege; try framing it not as turning your back, but enabling a more purposeful response.

Rather than scrolling endlessly, consider whether there is a more helpful or productive way to channel your energy right now – whether emotionally, physically or both. That might be through activism or tzedakah; a simple kind deed; being present with your children; reaching out to a friend; connection with community or prayer; or by caring for loved ones or yourself.

Lead by example

It is natural to be absorbed in news and media at this time – but we also know the value of switching off to protect ourselves. This is especially true for young people, and many parents will have gone to great lengths to shield their children or support their teens to disconnect - while inadvertently modelling the opposite.

Consider how you can lead by example in moderating your own media usage. You might invite older children and teens to be part of this – for instance, by developing some family guidelines together around phone- or news-free zones (like dinnertime, before bed, or in bedrooms) or inviting teens to prompt you to put down the phone (a task they will often take to with relish!)

Step by step

Feelings of uncertainty, helplessness, and lack of control are particularly hard to cope with. When feeling overwhelmed, if all else fails – break things down into the tiniest of steps. Don’t look at the days and weeks ahead, or what is beyond your control.

Ask yourself: What’s the next right thing?

Reach out

It is normal and human to be deeply distressed by what is happening. For many of us, the trauma of these events is unparalleled. However, if the impacts begin to interfere significantly with a person’s daily activities, it may be a sign that some further support is needed.

Signs of traumatic impacts or declining mental health might include:

  • Finding it very difficult to sleep or eat
  • Not taking any pleasure in usual activities
  • Inability to focus or concentrate on tasks
  • Overwhelming feelings of fear or panic
  • Difficulties managing relationships with friends and family
  • Intrusive or vivid thoughts or nightmares.

Your GP is a great place to start if you need further support. There are also a range of helplines and support services that can provide a listening ear.

Jewish Care: 8517 5999

Hatzolah (counselling): www.trybooking.com/CMJNY

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Griefline: 1300 845 745

Mensline: 1300 78 99 78

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800

For more tips on safer media use, visit https://www.esafety.gov.au/