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Updated Feb 25, 2022

How 'headline anxiety' impacts workers mental health

Since news broke of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Thursday, images of bombings, wrecked buildings, wounded citizens and families fleeing for safety have been spread across social media, news programmes, papers and websites.

With events like this, and the pandemic, having a detrimental impact on our mental health, employers need to know how can they help their employees.

Headline anxiety

Naturally news like this causes depression, anxiety, stress and low mood, which Rupert Saunders, Senior Clinical Advisor at Headspace, says is completely normal.

For those not in Ukraine, it is brought into our lives by access to constant news updates, with this sense of fear being continuous since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and even before that due to stresses over Brexit.

"We have been living in a state of sustained trauma the last couple of years … and I think people are tired and fatigued".

As sensational headlines get more attention, media outlets often end up focusing on disaster reporting. Consuming too much of this type of news can be toxic and have a serious impact on your mood.

In today's media it can be difficult to differentiate between news and comment, especially dependent on the political and social stances of those news outlets, which if not obvious, can also have a negative impact on their audience.

Impact of the pandemic

Clinical psychologist Tamara Cavenett, President of the Australian Psychological Society, added that we may be impacted by the news of Ukraine in a way that we might not have been three years ago.

"It’s not surprising if you’re overwhelmed by the possibility of another global disaster and lost sense of predictability around what’s happening in the world".

She added that vicarious trauma is possible from what you see on social media, or what you see in the news.

The workplace and headline anxiety

As people begin to return to work in some way, whether that be hybrid, working in the office, or still working from home, employees feel less resilient and stressed.

Despite feeling less able to cope than they did before the pandemic, workers still feel under pressure to disguise their mental health struggles from colleagues.

As well as this, colleague discussion on world events and sharing news articles, can feel like a constant reminder of the 'headline anxiety' which employees may be trying to escape whilst at work.

More than 800,000 people experienced work-related stress, anxiety or depression in 2020-2021 according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). This alongside the stress of the pandemic, news and personal circumstances can have serious negative impacts on employees mental health. 

How to manage your headline anxiety

Ways to deal with how you are feeling include:

  • manage your exposure by taking regular breaks from the news and social media;
  • watch reliable news outlets;
  • seek good news;
  • stick to a routine to help life feel a bit more predictable;
  • try to allocate certain times to worry and talk through it, whilst keeping the rest of the day to focus on daily life;
  • try to take care of your body through physical activity, eating well, drinking water and prioritising sleep;
  • avoid the temptation to self-medicate with alcohol and other drugs;
  • allow yourself to cry when you need to;
  • share what's on your mind with friends and family, or a counsellor or mental health service; and
  • if you are mentally able, look to see how you can help those impacted.

As well as this, employees can be strict about a work-life balance and creating a calm workspace when either personal circumstances, world events, or work is causing poor mental health.

How employers can help their employees

Employers can help employees with their stress or poor mental health by:

  • encouraging communication between both employees and management on mental health;
  • allowing flexible working;
  • creating a supportive environment;
  • checking-in with employees;
  • asking employees to be mindful when sending or discussing topics that could be a trigger to others.