Do you feel as if the last couple of years have been a never-ending downward news cycle of worry, danger and stress? Recent survey data shows that 70% of Americans feel “worn-out” by the amount of news available. So given everything going on around us, at global but also local level, how can we balance our “News Diet” so we stay informed without raising stress to unhealthy levels?
The nature of modern news, and the way we consume it, can play a huge role in our levels of stress and anxiety. It can make what is happening seem even more out of our control, leaving us feeling helpless, hopeless, overwhelmed, angry and exhausted.
The brain is wired to pay most attention to salient information, and top priority goes to things anything that it considers potentially life threatening. Therefore, anything scary or unsettling will not only make it through our own negativity bias, but will give us a jolt of stress.
Modern news – especially across TV and social media – plays on this.
- It tends to focus on attention grabbing headlines
- Discussion is more around opinions and feelings rather than deepening knowledge and facts
- This is supported by increasingly visual coverage – live broadcasts and cell-phone footage make it feel more personal
- and it is not only always available, but is pushed to us repeatedly throughout the day on news alerts, 24hour news channels and re-sharing on social media.
- without a call to action to address the issues or sign of resolution, our brain will naturally scan for and seek out updates or confirmation on the situation. As such it can become hyper-aroused (constantly in stress-state). Over 20% of people admit to “constantly monitoring” social media.
A 2014 study showed that negative TV coverage in particular is a significant mood changer, amplifying viewers own personal worries even if they are not directly related. In fact, those who watched 6+ hours per day of news coverage post the Boston Marathon bombing reported higher levels of acute stress than those who had actually been at or near-by the event itself (1). Research suggests that radio news (not talk shows) and print media are less harmful or sensitising than TV.
So how can you balance your news diet so you feel up-to-date without raising stress unnecessarily?
- Be aware of how different news sources and levels of consumption make you feel & how your mood changes. Does it take just 5-10 minutes, or even a headline, from a certain news programme or particular style to make you angry, agitated, anxious, worried, or sad? Are there any sources that inspire a change or action to improve the situation or the role you play in it?
- Think about the impact the timing of your news consumption has on your day – does a morning update put you on high alert for the rest of the day, or is the late evening news giving you too much to think or worry about for good sleep? When would be a good time to schedule news?
- Do you have news alerts or a tendency to keep checking the news or social media views throughout the day that means you revisit the same negative headlines over and over again. Mute or unfollow sources & apps which are too frequent or sensationalist.
- Engage intentionally with the news. Ask “Why am I consuming this?”, “What am I hoping to learn or gain from it?”, “Is this source the best place I can go for that information or action?”. Try to balance headline updates with longer, more detailed sources.
- Try to balance out the brain’s natural negativity bias by introducing practices promoting positive thoughts and emotion – gratitude, “what went well today”, noticing and doing acts of kindness, balance reading with non-fiction.
Like any other diet, be realistic with your goals to manage consumption. Giving the news up completely could itself cause worry or stress, and is unlikely to be successful.
Embrace Stress course
Over the years, as an ambitious employee, team focused manager and supportive friend, I developed a deep understanding of the challenges and pressures that we all face not only day to day but also in our long-term health, happiness and career development.