There is a lot going on in the world today. Investigations into government officials, tense world affairs, school shootings, and natural disasters fill the headlines. The stream is constant, and with news cycles that never sleep and social media feeds flooding our smartphones, it is hard to escape.

This has all begun to take its toll. More people are feeling anxious and sad. The news is just sometimes too much. We can think of it as chaos fatigue. 

In my practice as a psychiatrist, I’ve seen more patients talking about this very idea. It seems that more women are being impacted by this. Some have been so distressed that they’re turning off the tv or trying to distract themselves from what has been going on in Washington.

Some find themselves yelling at the television during newscasts, when this is not characteristic of them. This type of behavior can also cause distress for the family. Overall, though, I believe that this is a relatively small minority of individuals and only a small percentage are clinically distressed.

Uncertainty breeds distress. Cries of “fake news” and criticisms leveled at long-respected institutions create uncertainty as to who to believe. I think that uncertainty results in a clear amount of distress for a small number of individuals who pay close attention.

When it comes to differences of opinion, some people can accept those that are reasoned and argued. But with individuals showing little respect, along with the increased divisiveness in the country, it is adding to the distress that some feel. Many of them are therefore tuning out.

There has always been some tension between the politicians and the media, but never to this degree. It’s just a denigration of the entire enterprise. There is some long-term fear that there is irreparable harm being done. Fortunately, our attention spans are now brief!


Coping with all this news can be difficult, but there are things you can do to prevent chaos fatigue from setting in.

  • Recognize what you can and cannot control. You can control the TV dial. You cannot control what is going on in the world.
  • Go internal. Look at your immediate environment. Pay attention, but try to shut out the noise because you can’t control it. Accept the fact that you can’t control it.
  • Be aware and be informed. In the same way that I would tell a Patriots fan who is devastated by the loss, what does that really mean for your life? Can you still go to the restaurant, a movie, or take a vacation?
  • Live your life. Don’t let all the chaos preoccupy your life. Focus on family, friends, community. Focus on those things that are under your control. And vote.
  • If you want to take more action, get more politically involved. Make phone calls. Register voters. Do things that you feel are good for society; things that make you feel like you have more sense of control.
  • Limit social media.  What you can control is how you choose to interact with people. Don’t get into arguments with those “keyboard warriors” who are trying to change people’s minds. It’s a losing game. Whether or not you should make the effort is a decision only you can make, but it is in your control.

While we may all feel a bit of chaos fatigue, recognize it for what it is. If it’s more than that, we are here to help. Learn more on our website or call our central access center at 401-606-0606.

Learn more about Outpatient Psychiatry

Mark Zimmerman, MD

Dr. Mark Zimmerman is a psychiatrist and director of the Adult Partial Hospital Program and outpatient psychiatry at Rhode Island Hospital.

Outpatient Psychiatry