Are you a self-proclaimed news junkie? Do you spend hours scrolling through your social media feeds to consume the latest political, health, environmental or technology news? Understanding current events and what’s happening around the world keeps us informed and helps us to understand what might affect our lives. But when does news consumption become harmful to our mental health and productivity?
Read on and decide for yourself. When is enough, enough?
Negative news stories increase personal worry
We’re inundated with negative news stories daily. Conflicts, natural disasters and other upsetting events are routinely pushed to our news feeds on social media, in newspapers and through our electronic devices.
Often times we feel anxious when we hear about distressing events and have empathy for those who are affected. But, did you know that according to psychologists, negative news could aggravate our personal worries that are not even related to the content of the news story?
Solution: If you’re worried about a problem that exists in your life, reduce your negative news consumption to alleviate excessive anxiety about it.
Partisan news stories and discussions cause stress and frustration
According to researchers at Stanford University, American political language, which is routinely picked up by news sites is increasingly partisan. This study indicates that both parties promote their agenda by using language with distinctive subtexts. An example is “death taxes” versus “estate taxes.” “Death taxes” has a negative undertone and the language is used to influence our reaction to it.
This biased language makes us increasingly polarized and discussions become antagonistic, especially on social media. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, 59% of those who were surveyed found that when discussing politics on social media with those who they disagree with find it “stressful and frustrating.” And 37% are “worn out” by the number of political discussions that they see.
Solution: If political news stories and discussions are causing you stress and frustration, limit time on social media and unfollow sites that you believe are biased. Avoid engaging in conversations that invoke emotional responses.
Repeated negative news stories make us feel unsafe
Journalists recognize that negative headlines outperform positive headlines and there is evidence that we might be neurologically wired to focus on negative information. Because negativity attracts attention, naturally the media repeatedly serves it up in spades.
What happens when we’re flooded with violent and negative news? Mary McNaughton-Cassill has studied the effects of media on stress since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. In an article published by WPR, she indicates that when we’re surrounded with global, negative or dangerous information 24/7, it makes us assume that things are more dangerous than they are. Other researchers refer to this phenomenon as “mean world syndrome.”
If exposure to news is causing you feelings of hopelessness, McNaughton-Cassill recommends a media vacation. She suggests, “…switch off the news, unplug from social media apps, and do something else.”
Excessive consumption of news destroys our productivity
When you were a child, did you have a relentless little brother or sister who always begged for attention? This is the news in today’s world. It’s pushed us on our mobile devices; it’s blasting at the gym and it’s even shown when we’re getting a manicure.
Americans spend 57 minutes a day consuming news on news sites and television networks, and 13 additional minutes daily reading/watching news online. Considering most of the information we learn is for entertainment purposes only, and it is not actionable, we could be focusing our time on other activities that make a profound difference in our lives. Imagine what you could do with another hour or so a day!
Escape from media and practice attention restoration. Take a hike, spend some time at the beach or play a round of golf.
Fake news makes us feel deceived and can be dangerous
By now, you’ve probably heard that fake news websites are lurking everywhere. These fraudulent websites publish propaganda and false information, typically by impersonating established news sites.
Does fake news affect your mental health and safety? Of course. Misinformation can lead to fear, chaos and panic. And, we feel betrayed when we realize we’ve been deceived.
Fact check the news before you read it. First, check the URL. Does it end with .co instead of .com? If it is questionable, check Snopes.com, which has been monitoring fake news and urban legends since the 90s.
Staying informed of current events that affect our daily lives is important. However, if you have anxiety about the happenings in the world, which coincide with thoughts related to what you consume from the press, it might be time to put yourself on a media diet.
Featured photo credit: Salem Hussein via flic.kr
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