How can we take better care of our mental health at a time when crises seem to be everywhere? In an interview with Spot on News, Dr. Alena Rench, psychological psychotherapist at the online platform HelloBetter, explains exactly how crises affect our psyche, how balance can be achieved and, above all, how to protect young people.

How do global crises such as climate change, war or economic instability affect our mental health?

Dr. Alena Rench: Crises are events or changes in life that are difficult or impossible to manage at the moment and are accompanied by a loss of psychological balance. From a psychological point of view, crises expose us to acute stress because we feel that we have lost control over an internal or external situation. Reactions to this stress can be very different for each person. This becomes noticeable, for example, when you are tired, nervous or have trouble concentrating. Thoughts often revolve around experiences during the day, thoughts like “everything is too hard for me right now,” or physical symptoms such as insomnia, stomach problems, or headaches. If these symptoms are short-lived, they are usually not a cause for concern. But anyone who feels overwhelmed by a crisis or daily life for an extended period of time has an increased risk of becoming seriously ill.

Is this a new phenomenon as crises have become much more common due to social media and online news?

Dr. Rentsch: Psychological stress caused by crises in the world is not a new phenomenon, but it has changed thanks to digitalization. Through social media and online news, we are constantly exposed to other people’s problems and suffering, which can affect and burden us.

However, in principle, our mental health is influenced by various factors, such as our individual resilience, our social environment, our living conditions and our personal experiences.

Thus, constant exposure to negative news and images from around the world can cause us to become even more stressed, anxious, or sad. But it is also possible that through these media we feel more solidarity, empathy and hope. So it depends on how we process information and how we defend against or cope with it.

Simply ignoring negative news is not a solution either. How can you create a good balance to protect your mental health?

Dr. Rentsch: There are several aspects that need to be taken into account in order to handle the news appropriately. First of all, it is important to pay attention to the quality of information. This means choosing reliable sources and not just getting information through social media.

Additionally, listening to news podcasts or reading the daily newspaper will help you maintain emotional distance from stressful topics. Podcasts have the advantage of being image-free, and daily newspapers often offer less image-heavy content than online media or television. It is also helpful to follow constructive news and notice positive changes. There are formats that specialize in covering positive events and progress in the world and society.

Another important consideration is timing: it may make sense to limit consumption to once a day, especially not before bed. This can help reduce mental stress.

Moreover, it is extremely important to step out of the digital space and actively participate in real life. Meeting friends, exchanging ideas on various topics, and pursuing hobbies such as sports, art, or music all help you become actively involved in life rather than focusing solely on the news.

Finally, it is important to find a channel for the energy awakened by the news. Whether you take part in demonstrations, get involved politically, discuss things with friends, or get involved in other ways, it’s important to channel that energy into meaningful channels rather than getting lost in an endless cycle of self-preoccupation.

Keyword “German anxiety”: It is often said that Germans are a particularly fearful people and react less calmly to crises than others. Why is this? And why do some people find it easier to cope with crises?

Dr. Rentsch: The term “German anxiety” suggests that Germans are very anxious and react particularly fearfully, especially in crisis situations. However, fear in itself is not a negative emotion, but is a natural and basic human reaction that can protect us from danger. This motivates us to take precautions and look for solutions. For example, fear of the climate crisis can be positive because it inspires action and change to address this global threat.

Why might Germans be particularly vulnerable to fear and anxiety? One possible explanation is that historical events, such as two world wars, partition and reunification, have left a deep imprint on the collective psyche. Such profound crises can lead to a loss of security, orientation and identity. These historical influences may still play a role in how Germans respond to crises today.

However, from a psychotherapeutic point of view, individual differences in overcoming crises are much more important. Some people find ways to cope with stress and anxiety more easily. This depends on various factors such as personal resilience, previous experience, social environment and availability of resources and support. It is important to recognize that managing anxiety is an individual process and that there are different ways to deal with problems effectively.

Young people are especially susceptible to negative news through social media. How can parents do this to protect their children?

Dr. Rentsch: Parents should definitely actively support their children’s news consumption. Young children especially should not read the news unsupervised as they may have difficulty categorizing the content on their own. There are valuable news programs for children, specially tailored to their needs. But here, too, it is important that parents discuss the content together, clarify children’s questions, and provide the necessary context.

It is advisable to limit or at least accompany children’s use of the media, especially social networks. While this may no longer be possible for teens, parents can encourage them to follow reputable sites and formats that offer reliable information.

Parents’ emotional presence is also important, especially if you notice that news about topics such as war or pandemics is causing stress or anxiety. The topic of fear should be discussed openly and supported. (no/stain)
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