In today’s digital age, news comes at us from every direction. Many of us want to stay informed so we know about changes that might affect our lives. Others feel it’s our responsibility as global citizens. Yet, often we turn on the news or open the paper only to be overwhelmed by deeply upsetting events. Global warming, violent crimes, discrimination…the news we’re presented with daily can be disturbing. It’s no surprise, then, that more than half of all US citizens report that the news causes them stress, citing symptoms such as sleep loss, anxiety, and overall fatigue.
In fact, research indicates that watching the news not only affects our mood, making us sad or anxious, it can also exacerbate physical ailments by increasing the amount of stress hormones in our bodies.
Does this mean, then, that we have to choose between being informed and being happy and healthy?
Not necessarily. However, it can be beneficial to recognize when the news begins to take its toll on your well-being, and pick and choose what you consume. For example, if you’ve recently experienced a loss or trauma, it may take all the energy you have to just get through the day. In situations like this, a temporary hiatus from the news may be in order to protect yourself from any additional stress. It’s healthy to place limits on your exposure to distressing information.
However, if unplugging from the news altogether feels too hard, you may benefit from picking and choosing what gets your attention. Below we offer some tips on how to stay in-the-know, while also taking care of yourself.
- Cut Back
We’re living in a 24-hour news cycle, which means that we can encounter upsetting information at literally any time of day. Many of us get instant updates on our phones whenever a major story breaks, or encounter discomforting images or statements when we log onto our social media accounts. Loretta Breuning, author of Habits of a Happy Brain, suggests blocking out a certain period of time each day to catch up with the world, like during lunch or on your commute, and then using the rest of your time to pursue other goals or interests.
It’s nearly impossible to block out the news altogether when most public venues — restaurants, malls, doctor’s offices, gyms — feature TVs turned to CNN, MSNBC or local news channels. At the same time, steps such as removing alerts from your phone or timeline, changing the channel on the Stairmaster, or distracting yourself with something enjoyable until you’re ready to re-engage can have a positive impact.
- Find Solutions
One reason the news brings us down is that we sometimes feel helpless when confronted with stories of loss, pain and suffering. The problems of our world can seem so overwhelming and intractable.
Many people find that helping to solve a problem can increase their sense of agency, which in turns lifts their mood and outlook. In one study, two groups read about the same social problem. Afterward, one group was presented with information about five ways that they could solve it, while the other was given…nothing. Researchers then tested both groups’ moods and levels of creativity, and found that the group that had been exposed to potential solutions was both happier and saw a 20 percent increase in creative problem-solving abilities.
So, the next time an issue gets you down, try googling ways you can work against it. You’ll probably end up feeling more empowered knowing that you can make meaningful change in the world.
- Rethink the Meaning of “News”
Often, the “news” isn’t actually new. Think of movements like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter: the problems they discuss have been around for centuries, but they’re in the media now because as a culture we’re finally ready to talk about them.
Negative things happen all of the time without us knowing, but when they show up on TV or in our news feeds, we become aware of them. Awareness is a necessary precursor to activism and change, as our collective history has demonstrated. Hearing, for example, about acts or statements of bigotry can cause grief and anger, but it can also serve as the catalyst for action.
Unpleasant news stories will always be upsetting, but it helps to know that while they may be causing temporary, negative emotions, they’re also inspiring people to move towards positive, lasting change.
- Realize You’re Not Alone
Feelings of sadness, anxiety, worry, fear and frustration are often accompanied with a sense of isolation from others. For many of us, it is hard to express “negative” feelings, so we carry our pain and anger in silence, afraid that if we share them we will be judged, criticized or abandoned.
However, sharing our feelings can help connect us with others who may feel similarly and reduce our feelings of loneliness. Furthermore, others may have strategies or approaches for coping with painful or difficult information that we may find helpful too.
In some cases, working with a therapist may be the best course of action, especially when the news hits close to home or touches on issues– sexual assault, natural disasters, drug abuse, family separation–that are deeply meaningful or personal to us. Trauma-informed therapy can be particularly helpful in instances where a news item or story triggers a past event, which then creates feelings and thoughts that makes it hard for us to function. If you have questions about how therapy works or are interested in meeting with a therapist who has trauma training, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a free consult.
Our world is complex, and our experience of it can be both hopeful and beautiful, as well as frightening and overwhelming. It is possible to remain informed, while feeling safe. Interested in chatting about this more? We’d love to hear your perspective.