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This Simple Breathing Exercise Helps You Cope With News Anxiety, Says Dr. Gupta

It takes just seconds, he says.

If watching the news makes you anxious, you aren't alone. According to a study in the journal Health Communication, the obsessive urge to keep up with that news can lead to stress, anxiety, and worsening physical health. Researchers found that 16.5% of 1,100 people polled in an online survey showed signs of "severely problematic" news consumption, which led them to focus less on school, work, and family and contributed to an inability to sleep, while over 73% said they experienced mental health issues "quite a bit" or "very much," and 61% reported their physical health suffered. Luckily, there are things you can do to prevent news-related anxiety, says CNN's chief medical correspondent and host of the Chasing Life Podcast, Sanjay Gupta, MD. 

How news impacts your brain

This week, Dr. Gupta weighed in on how the Israel-Hamas war is impacting mental health, not just in terms of the people on the ground but anyone watching it on the news. "Even from afar, if you're witnessing this as we all have been, you guys have been witnessing it constantly, as have I, that can have an impact on your brain," he says. 

In order to illustrate his point, he used a brain model showing two areas of the brain: the amygdala, "which is the emotional center of the brain, and that's going to activate no matter what just by seeing some of these images," he says. "And what happens as a result of amygdala is that you're bypassing the frontal lobes, the judgment. You're basically just a reactionary emotional sort of person at that point," he continued. "You're not making rational decisions. It's all emotional. That's no surprise. I think the surprising part is it can happen anywhere."

He recently had Gail Saltz from the New York Presbyterian Hospital, Weill-Cornell Medical College, on his podcast, who gave him suggestions on what to do about it.

How you can defend yourself

The first? Remove social media apps. "I'm agreeing with the American Psychological Association and other organizations that have come out to say, 'Hey, take these social media apps off your kids' phone for a while,'" he says. "But I would also say for the adults, it may be a time to remove them for yourself." He added that he isn't recommending to "crawl under a rock and have no idea what's going on," but instead is advocating "not scrolling through the social media where there's no trigger warning. There's no warning. It's just a constant diet of really upsetting images," he says. 

He also maintains that Saltz suggests prioritizing mental health self-care. "When you brush your teeth, you take care of your skin. How do you take care of your mental health? How do you even know?" he says.

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Try paced deep breathing

"Paced deep breathing is something anybody can do, and I don't mean to minimize things, but it makes such an impact. Five seconds in through your nose and then seven seconds, two extra seconds out through your mouth, those two extra seconds, that's when your heart rate lowers. That's when your stress lowers. That's when your cortisol levels lower. Do that ten times."

He himself does it, and "I always do it when I'm in war zones," he says.  "Anybody who's watching these images can do it. Do it with your kids." If you don't know how to do it, he suggests downloading a breathing app. 

Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more
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