If you’re anything like me, the news cycle is getting you down. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum it’s exhausting to keep hearing about the president tweeting something controversial, our congress being at odds about everything, polls showing that the majority of the citizenship disagrees with things that are happening in Washington, fires burning out of control, extreme weather, police-involved shootings, mass shootings, the refugee crisis, etc., etc., etc. … It’s all literally taking a toll on our collective mental health.
Not sure what I mean? Here are just three of the hundreds of articles published since November 2016 that come up when you search “mental health news cycle”:
- Huffington Post UK: “Trump Anxiety? Time To Unplug From The 24-hour News Cycle”
- MentalHealthScreening.org: “When Media Coverage Becomes Too Much”
- America Magazine: “News cycle survival tips from an NPR reporter”
There are a lot of things we can do to manage our mental health in the face of what seems like an overwhelming and never-ending flood of bad and scary and upsetting news, and one I’m taking advantage of and recommending to you is EXERCISE.
Exercise, obviously, has a ton of potential benefits, but the ones that apply here are the release of endorphins and the neurotransmitters serotonin, anandamide and norepinephrine.
Endorphins are the ones you’ve probably heard about the most—the thing people talk about as the “rush” you get from extreme exercise. In reality, they work more like a painkiller, and your body releases them in response to stress or pain. CNN did a great piece on this and said:
Endorphins, which are structurally similar to the drug morphine, are considered natural painkillers because they activate opioid receptors in the brain that help minimize discomfort, says (J. Kip Matthews, Ph.D, a sport and exercise psychologist). They can also help bring about feelings of euphoria and general well-being. ‘Endorphins are also involved in natural reward circuits related to activities such as feeding, drinking, sexual activity and maternal behavior,’ he says.
It’s only been about 40 years since endorphins were discovered, so it isn’t surprising that the research that shows that they aren’t working alone hasn’t gone totally mainstream yet. You don’t hear as much about that workout bliss from anandamide, but it’s definitely a contributor. It’s the one that is produced naturally in the brain (which can be triggered by love, romance and sex) and is found in chocolate. It’s also triggered by the stress of exercise, and it contributes to a feeling of bliss.
Serotonin, which is associated with mood balance, happiness and wellbeing, is released in response to triggers including sunlight, remembering happy events, massage and exercise. Exercises that work especially well with this include aerobic exercises, like running and biking, or yoga.
Norepinephrine, which is also released in response to stressors including exercise, can also make you feel good. VeryWell says, “A somewhat high level makes you happy, and a really high level makes you euphoric.”
So, here’s my advice: Turn off the TV. Walk away from the internet. Unplug for a little while, and use that time for a workout. The combination of pausing the flow of information and getting these brain boosts from exercise will help you maintain your mental health. It might even give you the physical and mental strength to go out and generate some good news! Let me know how it goes.