COMMENTARY: How to Beat the Bad-News Blahs by Huntington News Network

By Dan VierraSacramento Bee

A nationally recognized mental-health counselor from Winter Park, Fla., is certain people are being adversely affected by the barrage of bad news _ on TV, in newspapers and on the Internet. (SHNS photo courtesy
Bummed? Could be the bad-news blahs, triggered by war, terrorist threats, hurricanes, gas prices, global warming and plenty of other equally deflating topics. Does a day pass when we don't get an earful about Hezbollah, Beirut or Baghdad? Or hear about a death caused by West Nile Virus, obesity or the serial killer of the month? A recent Harris Interactive poll of U.S. adults revealed a sense of deep pessimism. Only one in 100 believed there would be peace in the Middle East in the next year. A mere 10 percent predicted peace in the volatile region in the next 10 years. "Seems like in the past year with Katrina, Iraq, Lebanon and local kids in car crashes, it's gotten a lot more depressing," says Claire Gliddon of Fair Oaks, Calif. "We're all affected by the bad news," says Jennifer DeLugach of Folsom, Calif. "It's frustrating, it's sad.

The stories make you feel helpless and powerless." Dwight Bain, a nationally recognized mental-health counselor from Winter Park, Fla., is certain people are being adversely affected by the barrage of bad news * on TV, in newspapers and on the Internet. Bain describes the warning signs of bad-news overload as decreased sleep, feelings of stress, changes in appetite and mental numbness or "fog." "Literally their body is shouting, 'Turn it off, you're on overload,' " he says. Mary Ann Kalbach of Folsom, Calif., resents what she calls the "daily death toll." "In the morning I'll turn on TV news," says Kalbach, a bank vice president. "I told my husband, 'After the first three deaths, the TV goes off.' It usually lasts just a few seconds before I flick it off. I've taken this stand in my life." Jeff Davidson, author of "Breathing Space: Living & Working at a Comfortable Pace in a Sped-Up Society" (Mastermedia Publishing Co., $14.95, 209 pages), points the finger of blame at the media. "They're going places they don't need to be going," he says from his office in Chapel Hill, N.C. "Take the JonBenet Ramsey thing. They were drooling in the dog days of August, opening up this 10-year-old story instead of what's going on in education, science, our communities. But the way of our society is, only the titillating gets covered."

Bain isn't buying into the idea that we're neck-deep in the worst news period in human history, but believes that technology is allowing us to hear, read and see the carnage more than ever before. He says people tend to forget that news has a psychological impact. DeLugach, a stay-at-home mom of three children age 5 and under, shields her kids from reports on wars and disasters. She "never" watches network-TV newscasts and always reads newspaper comics. "Baby Blues," "Dilbert," "The Pajama Diaries" and "Zits" lift her spirits. Bain served as a crisis counselor at Ground Zero five years ago and calls upon that experience to make an encouraging point. "The respite tents around the pile not only had food and water, but posters, letters and cards from people," he says. "To sit and read those cards and letters sent to firefighters and policemen stirs my heart even now. They said, 'You're not alone in this crisis.' " Sending cards, letters, money or goods to disaster-relief groups gives us a sense of empowerment. Bain says the media can play an important and positive role by emphasizing avenues of help, by reporting on how people can contribute money and goods and where to send cards and letters. Gliddon also has found that giving is the great equalizer. She crochets blankets for Project Linus, which donated them to hospitalized 9/11 and Katrina victims. Gliddon calls it "one security blanket at a time." So how to cope with the barrage of bad news? James Cooper, a licensed psychologist, offers this advice:

* Take inventory on how you receive information and make the necessary changes. Is the TV constantly on news channels? Are you watching channels that sensationalize but don't offer in-depth analysis? Change the channel, literally and metaphorically. * Before sleeping, what do you choose to reflect upon or allow into your mind? If you're constantly worrying about events and things that "might" happen, often a subtle sense of powerlessness and futility will develop. * Exercise, stretch out and allow at least part of each day to be devoted to things and activities you love. * Make peace with the unknown, which may involve facing fear and defeating it. It is better to live fully and creatively than to make life an exercise in security. * Allow yourself to be influenced by letting in the concerns and solutions of others. * There are many forces competing for your attention and emotions. Be in control and prioritize. Dan Vierria can be reached at Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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