At this writing, the 2018 mid-term elections – and the quarrels and disputes that followed for weeks afterward — have come and gone. And the Kavanaugh hearings have come and gone, thank heaven.
But all you have to do is tune into or log onto a newscast and you’ll find plenty of new things to be upset about, or things the news organizations want you to get upset about so you keep watching. . .and watching. . .and watching.
Is this affecting our health? Let’s take a look. . .
The political vitriol on both sides seems to have turned into a constant stream of high decibel rage, amplified by a 24-hour news cycle and a constant social media stream. On top of that, there’s the news coverage of tragedies and disasters, each of which, we’re told, we MUST pay attention to.
Many of these are just natural events – hurricanes, floods, fires – in distant places, but we’re encouraged to think we’re all involved somehow – and we’re often told these misfortunes, too, are political – caused by climate change, or politicians who don’t act fast enough or care enough.
(Where is this perfect world with perfect people that the media are forever demanding? I’ve never seen it. . .but people who never do anything but talk – in return for a handsome paycheck – always know exactly what we need to do to have everything perfect.)
It would be amazing if the constant outrage and distress over troubling news did not lead to long-term anxiety and stress. And the experts say it does. It even has a name:
Headline Stress Disorder
The term was coined by Steven Stosny, PhD, a therapist in Maryland. He says the disorder consists of an increase in general anxiety, worry, intolerance and lowered frustration activation.
A recent Pew Center Research Center survey reported that seven out of ten respondents said they felt “worn out by the amount of news” available.
Additionally, a 2017 study conducted by the American Psychological Association, states that a whopping two-thirds of Americans report they are stressed out over the future of the country and the constant news consumption was tapped as a likely trigger.
But we can’t stay away. The study found that one in ten adults checks news hourly, and 20 percent of Americans “constantly” monitor social media feeds, exposing them to the latest news headlines.
Graham Davey, a professor emeritus of psychology at Sussex University, discussed the dilemma in a recent Time magazine interview.1
“The way that news is presented and the way that we access news has changed significantly over the last 15 to 20 years,” Prof. Davey notes. “These changes have often been detrimental to general mental health.”
We’re Wired to Worry
So, if 24/7 news stresses us out, why do we keep going back for more? Prof. Davey says the human brain is wired to pay attention to information that is disturbing, a concept known as “negativity bias.”
This is useful to survival. Our ancestors were likely to be eaten by a tiger, or to starve to death, if they didn’t worry about these matters. And a wise person worries about whether he or she is putting enough aside for retirement, or whether they should have that weird lump checked by a doctor. Those are real things to worry about.
But these days we’re overdoing it, raising our blood pressure and losing sleep over things that aren’t a direct personal problem, that we have little chance of affecting anyway, and that we probably – really – don’t need to check into more than a couple of times a week.
Five Ways to Combat Headline Stress
- Restrict Screen Time: Whether you are tapping away on your smartphone or surfing sites on your tablet, it’s incredibly easy to get sucked into the never-ending news. One story leads to another and before you know it, hours have gone by. Experts suggest setting an actual alarm prior to checking the news. Everyone has their own news overload tipping point so experiment with different time increments.
- News + Dreamland Don’t Mix: Looking for one more update before you go to bed? Don’t do it, an NBC report suggests.2 Checking news before bed ups your risk of an anxious and sleepless night.
- Balance with a Healthy Dose of Good News: It’s seems obvious, but it’s important to balance out your feed with inspiring, hopeful and humorous news stories. If you face a daily commute, consider an uplifting podcast instead of the radio news. Studies show that starting the day with troubling news can impact your work productivity.
- Disconnect Completely: Some folks benefit by going completely cold turkey with news. An NBC report2 recommends appointing a trusted friend to notify you if something is critical or there is an event that brings immediate physical risk.
- Go Old School: Experts suggest that reading a print paper may provide a better balance of news than online outlets. “You’ll still get the headlines, but on page two or seven, you will also find a positive story that will lower your stress levels,” one expert suggests.
How Much is Too Much?
Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t stay informed and involved in current events. However, when you notice that it’s impacting your life negatively, it may be time to limit your news consumption.
I don’t do Facebook, except to check out photos from close family. Otherwise, Facebook turns into a time-suck (as my niece calls it). I certainly don’t need to get news from Facebook, and I don’t need postings from “friends” who talk about nothing but politics. I don’t unfriend such people but I don’t look at their pages.
I’ve never looked at Twitter and don’t ever plan to.
I record my favorite TV newscasts and watch them later, fast-forwarding through stuff I don’t need or want to know. Fires in California? Hurricane in North Carolina? I sincerely feel sorry for those folks but I don’t need to hear every detail of their plight, several times a day. Once a day (or less) is enough.
Some talking head is ranting about a policy he/she doesn’t like? I don’t care, and I’m not going to learn anything from them. If they’re actually REPORTING on something, I might listen. But this is increasingly rare.
Economy may be ready to slide? The economy is ALWAYS ready to slide. That’s been true my entire life, and I’m 67. I can also tell you, as a trained economist, that nobody has any idea what’s going to happen tomorrow, and next month, and next year, and investment and economic forecasts are amusing nonsense.
I could go on, but you get the picture: YOU DON’T NEED THIS. Consider dialing it back.