• New SBS series 'Years and Years' highlights the anxieties many of us face about the future. (SBS)
We spoke to two experts on how to remain alert to the big challenges facing the world without getting too alarmed.
Kimberly Gillan

7 Nov 2019 - 10:17 AM  UPDATED 12 Nov 2019 - 10:09 AM

As if global issues like climate change, extreme politics and the displacement of refugees weren't enough to stress most of us out, there's also dystopian TV dramas like Years and Years painting a disturbing forecast on our screens, creating a challenge for even the most level-headed among us to remain engaged and productive without ending up in a ball of stress about what the future may hold.

We spoke to two experts on how to remain alert to the big challenges facing the world without getting too alarmed.

Why some of us feel so much

When bad things happen in the world, some people can objectively absorb media reports and gather their thoughts, while others can be sent into a tailspin of worry.

Psychologist Dr Marny Lishman says a lot of this has to do with our upbringing and the way our brains were subsequently wired.

"There's a range of factors that cause anxiety – it really depends how you've grown up, what your parents talked about, what media and movies you've watched, what you've read and what you've learnt at school," she explains.

"And the more you focus on something, the more you'll think about it."

It's important to note that stress and anxiety are actually important survival mechanisms.

"We are made to tune into things that are fearful in our environment – we need to know what's going on in our world and use that information to predict and prepare for what could be," Dr Lishman points out.

"But we need to try to calm ourselves down because we can't help when we are in a place of fear – we can't think properly, we can't make effective decisions and we can't problem solve when we are anxious."

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Look after yourself

Relaxing or doing things you enjoy may seem indulgent when there's so much going on in the world, but Dr Lishman says self-care is in our best interests – and, therefore, the world's.

"When we're calm, we're in the best place to do supportive things and come up with amazing solutions to these problems," she says.

"If you find yourself worrying and ruminating, tell yourself, 'My brain is doing the right thing – it's making me aware of these things but what I need to do now is think clearly'."

Dr Amy Morgan, anxiety researcher from the University of Melbourne's Centre for Mental Health, says one good way to do that is to release some of the physical tension caused by anxiety

"Anxiety has an impact on your body [such as escalating] your heart rate, sweating and tummy troubles," she explains.

"[One good strategy involves] reducing physical tension in the body through exercise, yoga … or progressive muscle relaxation, where you systematically go through your body parts and tense and release them."

Other helpful strategies include doing mindfulness meditation or critiquing your thoughts, asking yourself what is reasonable and what is realistic.

"[Ask yourself], 'Am I thinking in black-and-white terms or catastrophising?' [and] 'What is a more realistic thought?'," Dr Morgan suggests.

"It might [also] be about accepting some anxiety is okay – things in life aren't certain and you can't control everything."

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Be conscious of your triggers

If a politically charged dinner party or frantic Twitter scroll has you in a panic about the problems in the world, consider distancing yourself and surrounding yourself with positive people and stories to try alleviate your anxieties.

"Try to get a more balanced view of the world because there's some amazing stuff going on in terms of the environment and politics – there are some real champions out there doing wonderful things," Dr Lishman says.

"But when we open our social media or watch the news, you're often getting fear-driven media. Maybe consider switching off for a week or purposefully looking for good news."

Get help if you need it

If you've tried general anxiety relieving techniques but still feel anxious, Dr Morgan says you may need to speak to a professional.

"If it is really causing significant stress and impacting on your life, don't be afraid to see your GP and get a referral to a psychologist or counsellor," she says.

"Self-help strategies are helpful but if it's going beyond that, seek help."

Episode three of Years and Years airs on Wednesday November 13 at 9.30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand. Catch up on episodes on SBS On Demand.