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Culture

What to Do When the News Is Too Much

| 04/21/2022

scrolling on phone Illustration by Sophi Gullbrants

The world is always a lot, but there are times when it feels like a lot, particularly when it seems like media headlines are entirely dominated by negative news stories. For many of us, now is probably one of those times.

In fact, it’s been one of those times for quite a while. The pandemic, encroaching climate collapse, political corruption, and, of course, a war, have formed a dystopian backdrop to the past few years. A 2020 survey by the American Psychological Association found that the combination of these issues was causing a national mental health crisis, whilst a study from 2011 shows that negative TV bulletins have a specific influence on our emotional wellbeing, causing us to catastrophize personal worries. In other words, they make us exceptionally anxious and consider the worst-case scenario even for events that haven’t happened to us and are unlikely to.

Living in a digital era where access to the news is so widely accessible can make it feel like there’s a pressure to constantly stay up-to-date with the latest doom and gloom.

In fact, this is where the term ‘doomscrolling’ comes from – the constant over-consumption of bad news.

There’s a reasonable expectation to stay informed about current events, and it’s important that we do so in order to develop empathy and be in community with others who are struggling. However, doomscrolling promotes what’s known as ‘excessive empathy’ where constantly consuming tragic, depressing news makes us feel low, sad, anxious and stressed.

Feeling sad, depressed, anxious, guilty and angry at world events is completely valid, but when this becomes obsessional or seems to completely take over our mood, it might be time to reconsider how we’re engaging with it. Here are a few tips to begin being more intentional about your news consumption. 

Keep an eye on the time

Reducing how long you doomscroll is an obvious way to soothe the stress and anxiety it causes. However, this can be difficult to do, particularly because social media and algorithms are designed to keep us online for longer.

If you can, try to pick one or two times in the day where you’ll check the news and decide not to look at it outside of this. It can also be helpful to stick to just one or two trusted and fact-based news sources to avoid the overwhelm of information, contrasting opinions and excess data.

If you find it impossible to self-limit your exposure to the news, there are a number of helpful apps and settings you can try. Apple has its own internal app limit setting that you can place on your news apps. Simply go to Settings, Screen Time, App Limits, Add Limit, and Information & Reading. On an Android phone, a similar option is available under the Digital Wellbeing tab in Settings.

There are also a number of apps that are aimed at parents to help them control their kids’ screen time, but these are also extremely helpful for adults. Apps like Kidslox and Screen Time make it easy to set time limits on certain apps and monitor your phone usage.

Stay connected, but not too connected

The 2020 US election was considered such a significant source of stress for many Americans that the American Psychological Association released some guidance on managing the election anxiety. One of their tips is to stay socially connected. Whilst we may feel we’re doing this through our phones, it’s important to spend time with people in real life, and particularly useful when we’re feeling overwhelmed to have someone to turn to for support.

Aim for one social plan a day, even if that’s lunch with a colleague or a quick call with a loved one, and use that time to avoid staring at your screen.

Take some deep breaths

Harvard Health endorses breathing exercises as a way to calm nerves. If you’re finding yourself reacting physically as well as mentally to the news, it may be that your breathing becomes shallow and erratic, putting your body into ‘flight’ mode. It can help to try and control your breathing and they recommend the following breathing technique:

  1. Breathe in slowly and deeply, pushing your stomach out so that your diaphragm is put to maximal use.
  2. Hold your breath briefly.
  3. Exhale slowly, thinking “relax.”
  4. Repeat the entire sequence five to 10 times, concentrating on breathing deeply and slowly.

Stay mindful

The charity Mind also has a range of great resources on reducing and managing stress. A technique they reference as especially helpful is mindfulness. They describe it as a way to be aware of the present moment without judgment. Rather than ruminating over something you read that morning or listened to the night before, the idea is to turn your attention to what you’re currently doing, seeing and feeling. Studies using MRI scans have shown that mindfulness meditation appears to shrink the brain’s amygdala where our ‘fight or flight’ response sits (this is a positive sign!).

Alternative activities

Sometimes, the urge to check the news is very difficult to shake. In these moments, it’s worth having a list of alternative activities to turn to. They can include simple things like reading a book instead of scrolling on your phone, or watching a music video rather than the live news. 

Anything that takes your mind off the headlines is helpful, but a few activities in particular are proven to help alleviate stress, providing a double bonus; exercise is one of them.

Multiple scientific studies have proven a strong link between exercise and good mental health. It helps to not only distract us but it releases endorphins and adrenaline, which make us feel happier and more energized.

Meditation, whilst much more still, is an opportunity to relax the mind and instill a sense of peace that lasts long beyond the meditation itself. There are a number of highly-rated apps like Headspace, Breethe and Simple Habit that offer simple guided meditations. 

The good news

Even if you’re not necessarily scrolling endlessly or on the hunt for bad news, just staying up to date is enough to make us feel pretty down. There is substantially more coverage of negative stories than good news. However, some news outlets are trying to counteract this by focusing on positive stories. Publications like Positive News and The Happy Paper offer up an antidote to the regular news cycle and highlight stories that might just restore your faith in humanity. 

 

 

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