Braking News: Slowing Down Our Relationship with the News

Like many – I have a love-hate relationship with keeping up with the news. While I believe it is important to be informed, sometimes the information can feel overwhelming; it is easy to go from reading countless updates on a breaking story to avoiding the news entirely. With today’s unfettered access to the news, our contact with breaking stories may be more frequent, immediate, visual, and perhaps for some, intrusive.  News websites, apps, notifications on our phones, and social media are only a few ways we access current events, intentionally or not. For most of us, this increasing exposure may be major shift in our relationship with news media. How might these changes affect our thinking, emotions, and actions?

Research suggests that the way people consume the news can significantly impact their well-being. On the one hand, watching the news has been associated with emotional distress and negative attitudes; on the other hand it has also been linked with increases in knowledge, one’s likelihood to vote, and civic participation (Bodas, Siman-Tov, Peleg, & Solomon, 2015; Hao, Wen, & George, 2014; McNaughton-Cassill, 2001, Roche, Pickett, & Gertz, 2016). How then, can we develop a healthy way of thinking about and engaging with the news? Below are a few suggestions.

1.  Be proactive, not passive, in your news consumption:

It is easy to go on autopilot when it comes to news consumption, allowing information to come to you unfiltered.  But remember, you are the primary curator of the information you receive and this is an important job. Take stock and record your news consumption patterns over the span of a week. If you do not have established habits that feel good, make a decision based on your personal values about how much time you’d like to spend daily on conscious news consumption.

One way to do this might be by identifying times that are less than ideal to engage with the news (e.g., after a stressful day, when you are feeling unwell, right before bed), and times of day that are most ideal (e.g. “I will look at the news around 8:30 and at 4:30”).  Turning off social media notifications may be helpful. Limiting content that may be emotionally taxing or personally triggering because of your own history and not re-watching videos with disturbing images are simple ways to also create intention around your routine.

As psychologists here at CTWPS, we encourage our patients to test out both the utility and validity of their thoughts. We help women identify evidence in their daily lives that challenge thought patterns that may in fact be inaccurate, incomplete, or unhelpful. In the spirit of encouraging critical thinking, we suggest reading the news from multiple sources. Media outlets often report from a specific lens. Gathering a range of perspectives on a single story may help create a more balanced perspective.

2.  Consume news thoughtfully.

Negative news cycles can affect our thinking.  It may seem like every breaking headline on a given day features the latest act of terror, injustice, natural disaster, or sexism.   It is a cynical fact that negative news cycles grab the attention of the public more quickly, via anxiety, than stories about puppy rescues. The media industry is rewarded by presenting negativity more than positivity, and we should always factor that bias into our experience. Expanding the content range of your news consumption (e.g., a brief Google search on “advances in medical research this year”) is one way to challenge the negative bias built into how the news is often packaged.

If, after watching the news, you notice your mood lowering, you may be engaging in some distorted thought patterns that were triggered by negative news.  An example of this might be the catastrophic thought “The world is falling apart”, which has some truth in it (some parts of the world are in great dysfunction), but does not acknowledge all of the functional and joyous aspects of the world - and your personal world - as well.

3. Prioritize self-care.

There is a lot happening in New York City and the world. Given our busy lives and responsibilities, it can be easy to delay self-care or overlook its importance in how we consume news. Yet research exists pointing to a greater need for self-care if we are frequently exposed to stories that include multiple traumatic events and images (Holman, Garfin, & Silver, 2014). Some self-care practices we would recommend at CTWPS are using relaxation techniques to reduce stress and manage your sleep. Talk with friends and colleagues so you are not isolated in your experience. Explore your own spiritual beliefs or supports as a way to address larger questions that may come up around news stories about injustice and suffering. Get in touch with your personal values which may help you narrow what types of stories to pay attention to and empower your news consumption. If you are able and interested, get actively involved in a cause or organization to help feel empowered and part of a positive story.

However, if you are finding yourself significantly distressed because exposure to particular events may be personally triggering or preoccupying, please seek out professional support. We are happy to support you and your mood by finding ways to boundary your news exposure with you, and teaching you more skills for coping in our modern age.

References:

  • 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. Psychiatry, 78(3), 265-276.

  • Hao, X., Wen, N., & George, C. (2014). News consumption and political and civic engagement among young people. Journal of Youth Studies, 17(9), 1221-1238.

  • Holman, E. A., Garfin, D. R., & Silver, R. C. (2014). Media’s role in broadcasting acute stress following the Boston Marathon bombings. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(1), 93-98.

  • McNaughton-Cassill, M. E. (2001). The news media and psychological distress. Anxiety, Stress and Coping, 14(2), 193-211.

  • Roche, S. P., Pickett, J. T., & Gertz, M. (2016). The scary world of online news? Internet news exposure and public attitudes toward crime and justice. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 32(2), 215-236.