The balance between staying informed and being consumed by the news is a hard one to strike.
Trying to keep up with the minute-by-minute updates and myriad news sources often leave us feeling depleted. Still, it can be hard to look away from.
Thanks to smartphones and the internet, we now have access to the latest updates 24/7. The easy access to news increases our consumption¹ and leads to some grave mental health implications¹.
News media plays a massive role in our environment and daily events. Even those who do not regularly watch daily news shows will still find it seeping into their routines via social media, notifications, and conversations with others.
For several years now, over two-thirds of Americans have felt worn out by the sheer amount of news there is². This news fatigue transcends political parties, having an even broader impact on those who do not closely follow political news. But yet, it’s not as simple as just shutting off the news. According to the American Psychological Association, adults feel conflicted between the desire to stay informed and their view of news as a source of stress¹.
It’s best to find the middle ground between consuming news and allowing it to consume you. Why does the news affect us so negatively, and how can we de-stress from it?
One big reason news is fatiguing aligns with the phrase “most news is bad news.” So many of the headlines we see play on a negative element. Most of the small joys or positive acts that occur “aren’t news,” but why not?
One study by researchers Marc Trussler and Stuart Soroka examines how people relate to the news³. Participants were asked to select stories about politics and told their eye movements would be measured when reading the articles. They then watched a video and answered questions about the type of political news they would like to read. The experiment revealed that participants chose stories with a negative tone over neutral or positive ones, even though they preferred good news. Regardless of what people say, they demonstrate a preference for unfavorable news content.
The results of this study may seem disheartening and even shocking, but they align with ‘negativity bias⁴.’ Negativity bias is the notion that humans are hardwired to look for the negative. The purpose of this bias was to help us find and respond to potential threats, so seeking out the negative news signals that we must change something to avoid danger.
Why does bad news have such a profound effect on us? According to one study, negative news increases our anxiety and sadness⁵. The results of the study suggested that the mechanism behind this is internalization.
We may hear a news story from far away, but the story causes us to reflect on and worry about issues much closer to us. The bad news exacerbates our concerns that may not even be directly related to the news content.
Additionally, the abundance of negative and traumatic stories is just profoundly concerning. Staying informed often comes at the cost of getting stressed out.
While there’s a lot we still don’t know about how news and politics impact our mental health, what we do know is worrisome. In 2017, Dutch researchers examined how hard news with a political perspective impacts our wellbeing⁶. They discovered wellness falls an average of 6.1% for every additional TV hard news program watched per week! They noted that the dominance of negative stories and powerlessness this induces contributes to the loss of wellness.
Similarly, data from the 2014 General Social Survey suggests that those who were “very interested in politics” were a whopping 8% more likely to be “not very happy” about life compared to those who were “not very interested” in politics.
All of this bad news harms our wellness, and it makes us more anxious. A 1997study found that negative news makes people more sad and anxious than neutral news⁷. When viewing negative news, we are more likely to conjure up our worries. Another 2015 study also found that increased consumption of news media leads to more anxiety, with viewers who watched more news than usual were 1.6x more likely to report a symptom of anxiety⁸.
Based on the available research, bad news takes a heavy toll on our mental health by:
Most news is not something we can influence, so consuming a lot of it tends to leave us feeling helpless. To describe the sense of frailty we feel from the news we can’t change, Steve Stonsy, an American couples’ therapist, coined the term “headlines stress disorder” following the 2016 US election⁹.
Headline stress disorder is “a high emotional response to endless reports from the news media, such as feeling anxiety and stress.” Over time, the continued anxiety and stress can lead to physical and mental diseases.
According to Steven, there are ways to reduce the impact of headline stress disorder. He recommends that we:
One of the most challenging parts of dealing with news is that it’s not a one and done. The world often focuses on the developing aspects of a story over and over, which makes it very hard to move past the stress and anxiety it’s giving you.
Whenever you face a news story that’s inducing worry or stress, use the APPLE technique by Anxiety UK. The APPLE technique involves acknowledging, pausing, pulling back, letting go, and exploring. It’s a great way to deal with the emotions news invokes at the moment.
There’s no doubt about it; the constant influx of news can be stressful. With new alerts, tweets, and articles popping up every minute, the news can take a severe toll on our mental health. While the APPLE method is excellent for combating news, other methods may also reduce the triggers. Here are some ways to de-stress from the news.
While entirely cutting out the news is not realistic or desirable for most of us, limiting news consumption is. Smartphones and apps make news consumption more effortless than ever, which is not always beneficial. Much like any other social media content, the constant news feed can be addictive and turn into mindless consumption¹⁰.
Choose when and how you consume your news to limit your consumption. Balance the news you consume with other stimulating media and choose the most relevant and engaging news stories. Turning off your news notifications can help you limit your consumption, as well as deleting news apps. This way, you can deliberately choose when to interact with news rather than being bombarded by it all day long.
No, we cannot solve every problem in the news. Many of the headlines represent events we have no control over. However, there are ways we can get involved rather than watching from the sidelines. For many people, following news and politics is akin to watching SportsCenter. It’s a hobby in itself, but it leads to minimal action. One great way to reduce the stress of negative news is to do something positive. When possible, you could contribute in a beneficial way that directly combats certain news events, making you feel better and may lead to real change. Some examples include:
Much like news, social media always has something new on the timeline and can lead to information overload. Not to mention, it’s often filled with news-related and political information even if you do not follow those sources. Many people turn to social media to share their political beliefs and news. Be aware of your social media use and not get sucked into the endless stream of content.
The weight of the news and the state of the world can be discouraging and stressful. Limiting and monitoring consumption is essential, but so is dealing with stress. Look after yourself first. Focus on nurturing your wellbeing, and you’ll be more resilient to stress. Self-care involves:
Pay attention to how the news is making you feel. If you notice you are getting overwhelmed and upset, switch off. The news will still be there when you get back; that’s the beauty of the internet. Maybe you can return to it once you’ve calmed down and collected yourself. Instead of watching news updates on a loop and getting more and more distraught, do something else. Aim for an activity that you find relaxing or enjoyable, like yoga, meditation, playing with kids, walking the dog, etc. Reset your nervous system by slowing your breathing and remind yourself that you are safe.
Far too often, the news becomes the center point of our conversations. It disrupts our relationships and makes them even more stressful. You do not need to engage with stressful news topics. If you notice the news putting a strain on your relationships or controlling all of your conversations, stop talking about it. You should set boundaries for when and where you talk about news and politics, keeping it under 30 minutes a day.
It’s essential to stay informed, but the truth is that we are consuming much more news than we often need to. News is available continuously, and it can be hard to turn away. Furthermore, most news is bad news; that is what people pay most attention to. However, all of the bad news makes us stressed, depressed, and anxious. We should all understand that headline anxiety is a normal process related to feelings of uncertainty that news provokes. Despite this, we are not doomed to be trapped by bad news. By using the tips above, we can de-stress from the news and live healthier lives.
(1) American Psychological Association (November 2017) APA Stress in America™ Survey: US at ‘Lowest Point We Can Remember;’ Future of Nation Most Commonly Reported Source of Stress
(2) Gottfried, J (February 2020) Americans’ news fatigue isn’t going away – about two-thirds still feel worn out
(3) Trussler, M; Soroka, S (March 2014) Consumer Demand for Cynical and Negative News Frames
(4) Soroka, S; Fournier, P; Nir, L (September 2019) Cross-national evidence of a negativity bias in psychophysiological reactions to news
(5) Johnston, WM; Davey, GC (February 1997) The psychological impact of negative TV news bulletins: the catastrophizing of personal worries
(6) Boukes, M; Vliegenthart, R (2017) News consumption and its unpleasant side effect: Studying the effect of hard and soft news exposure on mental well-being over time
(7) Johnston, WM; Davey, GC (February 1997) The psychological impact of negative TV news bulletins: the catastrophizing of personal worries
(8) Bodas, M; Siman-Tov, M; Peleg, K; Solomon, Z (2015) Anxiety-Inducing Media: The Effect of Constant News Broadcasting on the Well-Being of Israeli Television Viewers
(9) Dong, M; Zheng, J (April 2020) Letter to the editor: Headline stress disorder caused by Netnews during the outbreak of COVID-19
(10) Vermani, AK, MD (July 2018) Quick dose: Is my kid addicted to social media?