Headline anxiety occurs when sad or stressful stories in the news affect an individual’s mental health. With the rise of the 24/7 news cycle and constant social media notifications, many people feel overwhelmed with the news. Since moving to college and becoming more involved in my community, the news has had a huge impact on my life and my mental health. However, the 2021-22 school year has been particularly difficult.
The University of Utah campus community has experienced several student deaths, which has brought our peers to tears over and over again. The news may seem overwhelming in itself, but these losses add to feelings of helplessness and anxiety. With the losses we have suffered as a community over the past year, it is important to recognize when and why we need to take breaks.
Over the past year, our global community has made headlines about climate change, the ongoing pandemic, and the war in Ukraine. These major events can make us feel helpless. I saw a friend cry about climate change and the impossibility of fixing it through individual action. I cried after reading articles about civilian deaths in Ukraine.
These world events do not minimize the impact local and campus issues have had on us. As U students, we read about the deaths of students we had lessons with or cheered on in our stadium. In October 2021, Aaron Lowe was shot dead at a Sugarhouse party, marking the fifth killing of a U student in just five years. Last February, Zhifan Dong was murdered in a motel in Salt Lake City, adding to that number.
The death of any member of our campus community is deeply tragic. These affect us more because they arise from the bigger issues we see in the news, such as domestic and gun violence. The general anxiety we feel about issues such as gun and dating violence manifests itself in the community where we live and go to school.
In 2020, Ty Jordan was killed in an accidental self-inflicted shooting. To see Lowe, who wore Jordan’s jersey number, killed by gun violence less than a year after Jordan is devastating. In 2018, the death of Lauren McCluskey at the hands of a former romantic partner baffled our college community. Dong’s death reminds us of the continued prevalence of domestic violence on our campus and the continued need for better resources. It is hard to watch our peers die despite our requests for additional resources for student safety.
Title anxiety only affects our campus because of our shared losses in recent years. However, in addition to advocating for resources and safety, we need to feel comfortable taking a break from the news. Mental health professionals have recommended limiting news and notifications to a few trusted sources, waiting to read the latest news, and avoiding trigger topics.
From experience, these habits help me preserve my emotional energy. I work around the football team and have seen the effects of these tragedies on the loved ones of the victims. I wish I had thought of turning off my Twitter notifications when Lowe died. The grief I saw as well as the constant notifications of Lowe’s death deepened my own feelings of loss. I wish I had learned to avoid triggering topics in the news sooner because I don’t often get to choose when I see campus safety notifications on topics like sexual violence.
Given the relevance of student deaths on our campus, taking a break from the news may seem irresponsible or morally wrong. It also seems impossible to take a step back when we are grieving with our classmates. However, we must recognize that we cannot continue to advocate for student safety and movement on issues such as dating and gun violence if we do not put our own mental health first.
Title anxiety causes an overall feeling of stress, but it also contributes to longer-term stress, burnout, and anxiety. The shared losses our campus has suffered have contributed to my own sense of stress over the news of the past year. We all want to keep ourselves and our peers safe, but we have to deal with our feelings of burnout to be good advocates.