Protecting Your Mental Health While Staying Informed
We are living in particularly stressful times. Not because wars, pandemics, political power plays, social unrest, and global economic downturns are anything new in the grand scope of human history, but because for many of us, the rate at which we are bombarded with new ー and quite often, overwhelming ー information is becoming incredibly stressful一for some, even unbearable. The digital revolution may have connected us with our fellow humans in remarkable ways, but it has also contributed to a global mental health challenge of increased stress and anxiety. So how can we retain a connection to the world as engaged global citizens that care about what’s going on around us, without completely losing our minds? Let’s cut the speculation and get straight to the facts.
Understand What’s Really Going On With The 24-Hour News Cycle
A study on the early days of the COVID-19 news cycle found that people who followed updates about the pandemic closely had much higher rates of psychological distress than those who limited their news exposure. A big part of the issue is the hysteria around the news 一not just the reporting of an event itself, but the analysis, speculation, and sometimes misinformation that is churned out, not always with the intention to keep us informed, but often to garner clicks, because clicks equal advertising dollars – as do eyeballs on TV news stations. As Georgetown University professor Cal Newport, author of Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, put it in a New Yorker article: “Checking ten different sites ten times a day makes them money, even if it doesn’t leave you more informed than checking one good site once a day.”
Examine The Nature Of Your News Consumption
Think about how you’ve engaged with the news in the past week. At what point are you intentionally consuming news as a socially responsible member of society, and at what point are you being manipulated into compulsive behaviours and an unhealthy relationship with information? There’s a big difference between staying informed on current affairs and being glued to the news cycle for fear of missing out on something. No one on this planet has the capacity to keep up with every single thing that happens each day. But if you’re desperate to be the first person in the office with the latest tidbit of gossip, then have a think about your motivations for this. Are you trying to people please? Are you seeking validation? Is it actually quite a burdensome responsibility to keep everyone else up-to-date with current affairs when you have your own full-time job and life challenges to deal with?
Here’s another tough question: When asking yourself why you’re spending so much time not just watching, reading, or scrolling through the news, but also sharing your thoughts and commentary about it, consider whether you’re doing so because you truly want to learn more about it – and if you have the mental and emotional capacity to take in this information in that moment – or if it’s actually because of how you would like to be perceived within your community. Taking a step back to look after yourself and your own mental health doesn’t mean you care about certain causes any less, or that you lack empathy or awareness about what’s happening in the rest of the world.
Disrupt Your Intake
If taking a break from the news seems wildly impossible, then unless it’s your job, you really might benefit from a break from all of your news sources, including social media platforms. Avoid them altogether for a few days, a week, or more if needed. It’s ok to retreat every now and then, and it’s ok not to be the person with all the opinions and stats on everything. On a more long-term basis, consider limiting your exposure: Allow yourself a reasonable amount of time to check in and see what’s happening around you, but try to set good habits in place that help you avoid getting sucked into a rabbit hole ー even if that requires a self-imposed literal time limit. Use the time to reconnect with yourself and the things that bring you joy. The world will still be ticking along when you come back to the news, and any major developments will still find their way to you from friends, colleagues, or family members.
Rebuild Your Relationship With The News
While it’s good to absorb a diverse range of perspectives and opinions, start with one reliably legitimate news organisation that you trust the most. Use this source to get the headlines, and build a more intentional habit around interacting with it. This could include one or all of the following:
- Spending 15 minutes in the morning catching up on the headlines.
- Taking 30 minutes after work reading more about the stories that interest you.
- Enjoying an hour or two on a weekend reading a more in-depth analysis.
- Curating your social media feeds to include as few news sources as possible.
Put The Phone Down
Doomscrolling before bed never made anyone feel better. Establishing a regular meditation practice in its place – one that reminds you of your inner strength, no matter what is going on in the world – is proven to have more benefits to your mental health. So find more ways like this to ground yourself in the face of life’s unpredictability, and focus on what you can control. Obsessing over the news won’t get you any closer to solving the world’s challenges, but showing up from a well-rested, more heart-centred place can help you support your own community better, and the rest can stem from there. Remember: looking after yourself mentally and emotionally is a major part of self-care, and it’s just as important to show up for yourself first as it is to do so for the causes you care about.
All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals and other resources that influenced this article: COVID-19 And The 24-Hour News Cycle; The Psychological Impact Of Negative TV News Bulletins; Associations Between Media Exposure and Mental Distress Among U.S. Adults at the Beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic; News Consumption and Its Unpleasant Side Effect: Studying the Effect of Hard and Soft News Exposure on Mental Well-Being Over Time.
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