As we are all now connected to the internet in one way or another the world has become a global village. We now hear quickly, and in great detail, as awful situations unfold. The images, the sounds, and the stories in all their stark detail are broadcast across all mediums, over and over again.
TV, radio, phone notifications, online news outlets, social media…and so it continues.
Taking in the deluge of troubling, fearful and horrifying information is hard. It’s also hard to witness what humans can do to humans. Being so readily available and normalised in our society, we can struggle to fully comprehend the impact that this amount of negative news can have on our health.
When we watch or hear a harrowing news report it activates our sympathetic nervous system, releasing a cocktail of hormones that are designed to help us fight or flee what is happening. A variety of things can happen when the fight or flight response is triggered regularly in response to news reports.
- A sense of general anxiety can become quite normal, exacerbating existing mental health issues.
- The body stiffens and muscles tighten in readiness for the anticipated action required to face or flee the danger ahead.
- We can enter a destructive loop of continuous connection to new updates, this is a natural response to perceived danger and how we might stay safe. But this is a primitive response, and evolution has not prepared us for the continuous news feeds that we can be exposed to.
- The fight or flight response with no means of escape, can lead us to emotionally shut down or give us a sense of hopelessness and numbness.
- Finally, the enormity of our feelings can lead us to self-medicate and numb painful emotions, for example with an increasing alcohol intake to maintain the anaesthetising effect.
Because the news is a part of life for so many, we can underestimate the detrimental impact on our nervous system and the long-term impact on our health, both mental and physical.
In response to the damage of frequent news consumption, it is a good idea to put some boundaries in place to prevent news stories from overwhelming your nervous system.
- Set up a limit and try to stick to it, become more aware of what drives you to overconsume.
- Choose reliable news outlets, with fact-checked and accurate reporting.
- Switch off phone notifications, banners, and alarms.
- Close down tabs on your computer so that the little red dot signalling a news story update isn’t within your eyesight.
- The imagery associated with the news increases our emotional response, so a starting point could be to reduce access to TV or online visual sources of news.
- Radio offers a nonvisual option but switch channels and perhaps choose mood-uplifting playlists to avoid the regular news updates.
Many habits related to news bingeing may have begun during the pandemic and have taken hold subconsciously. So, now is a good time to monitor your news habit and even seek professional help to support positive habit changes and discover alternative and more beneficial behaviours.
If you are going to expose yourself to the negative news, then do it earlier in the day so it isn’t on your mind when you go to bed. Also, make sure you have something positive to listen to, or to read afterwards.
Happier and more heart-warming stories can have a positive impact on our health so try having something alternative to focus your attention on, to fill the bad news void. Filling the gap with something more positive like the Good News Network perhaps.
In short, high consumption of bad news is bad for us, so coming up with a coping strategy is essential to increase our long-term health.
If the news is impacting you today, our thoughts are with you.