Have you noticed that the more news you consume, the more anxious you might feel? We’re living in a whirlwind of uncertainty, so it’s only natural that you’d be seeking out more information right now. We like to be informed! But if it’s at the risk of our mental health? Maybe it’s worth reassessing just how frequently we ingest more information.
Research shows that the consumption of negative news can significantly affect one’s mood and exacerbate worries, producing feelings of sadness and anxiety. We might think, “well it’s just news. I need to know what’s happening,” and that might be true sometimes, but there are side effects to consider. When we absorb negative news, our brain oftentimes responds as it would to any threat by going into fight or flight mode and, as a result, stress hormones are released.
While living in quarantine, you may be feeling disconnected from your various communities, leading you to spend more time on screens seeking out information. We totally get it and our team at Sanvello have put our heads together to come up with our top tips for managing your news intake.
Try to set reasonable time limits for news consumption.
We know. This one’s obvious, but hear us out. A study published in the British Journal of Psychology found that the detrimental effects of watching negative news on participants were evident after only 14 minutes. Most of us spend way more than 14 minutes refreshing our social media feed or taking in sensationalized news stories.
The trouble is that once you find yourself going down a news rabbit hole, it can be difficult to break away. Some people find it helpful to set a timer to regulate the amount of intake.
Consider taking helpful steps like disabling or removing the news alerts on your phone. If you’re interested in the news, you’ll check the latest stories regardless of whether you receive a notification. And if you “love” receiving breaking news notifications, ask yourself why. Unless you’re a journalist or a politician, it’s unlikely that you need to constantly be alerted of breaking news.
If you’re an iPhone user, the Screen Time function allows you to control how much time you spend on various apps so that you can make more informed decisions about how you are using your device. And any smartphone offers a clock function. Set your timer for 5 minutes, read the news, and when the timer goes off, stop reading. It’ll be tricky, but over time, this method can help you be thoughtful about which stories you need to read and which might not be worth your time.
Finally, when it comes to limits, we have to acknowledge that sometimes the news itself is beyond those limits. For instance, if you’re watching live updates about pending school closures or weather warnings, that’s a scenario that may call for your attention for longer than five minutes. Likewise, if you’re watching the debates, that’s essentially a movie’s worth of news. If you find yourself in a news “binge” like this, give yourself a break the next day.
Set aside a designated news time.
Are you the type of person who reaches for their phone first thing in the morning, only to be hit with an onslaught of anxiety-provoking news notifications? Or maybe you find yourself staying up late, “doomscrolling” in bed. You’re certainly not alone, as collective screen time has drastically increased during quarantine.
It’s helpful to observe how news consumption is affecting your overall mood and sleep patterns. You may find it best to allocate one time a day to absorb the latest news cycle rather than checking it sporadically throughout the day.
Experts recommend putting away your phone at least an hour before bedtime, specifically because the blue light from your device can interfere with your natural sleep cycle. Most phones also have a “Do Not Disturb” setting that you can utilize when you want to disconnect. And if you can’t quite loosen your grip on your phone before bed, the Screentime function mentioned earlier allows you to self-block certain sites for designated periods of time (like 9 p.m. onward.)
Be selective in what type of news you seek out.
When possible, seek out news sources that best educate you on how to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. If you’re unsure of how a particular news source is affecting you, take a moment to ask yourself how you feel after reading an article. Do you have increased feelings of hope and shared humanity or are you left anxious and pessimistic?
It’s also a good idea to only seek out news from sources like the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that are offering up-to-date, non-sensational information to keep you and your family safe. You may want to subscribe to a podcast or newsletter that packages the amount and type of content for you.
What about your social media feeds? Do you need to temporarily or permanently mute or unfollow certain sources? You may find it beneficial to review the channels and people you are following and how the onslaught of information that they are disseminating affects you.
Do something to lighten the mood.
After you dive into the news for your allotted amount of time each day, consider doing something positive for yourself to offset any residual fear or anxiety that you may be experiencing. Activities like journaling, taking a walk, listening to upbeat music, and processing your feelings with a mental health professional or friend can offer levity and help you to be more present.
Sure, digesting the latest headlines will make you feel more informed in the short-term, but it could have a detrimental effect on your mental health long after you put down your screen. Given that we’re living through a global pandemic, we certainly don’t recommend that you stick your head in the sand. It’s important to stay informed in order to make safe and responsible decisions. That being said, there’s a huge difference between staying up-to-date and anxiety-fueled news binges.
There is a seemingly endless amount of content available to us 24/7 and it makes sense that we’re seeking out more media right now. During times of social isolation, it’s important to stay connected to others. Right along with you, we’re all trying to strike the right balance, so be gentle with yourself and don’t be afraid to disconnect a little more often.