Today I want to talk a little bit about the news cycle and the negative effects that obsessive news consumption can have on our mental health. In the current climate, there is a greater sense of fear and panic in the media and public life than usual. Following the news so intently can exacerbate these emotions and lead to thought patterns that are limiting and disempowering.
So – why can the news cycle have such a damaging effect on our mental health?
Our systems responds to the news as if we were experiencing the event as happening to us. It becomes part of our internal representation of the world.
When we experience an event our brain takes what we see, hear and feel and filters the information it receives based on our thoughts, memories, beliefs, decisions and values. It then deletes distorts and generalises the information to create our own internal representation of the world. We then create our behaviours from these representations.
Which leads to the question – what effect does consuming doom and gloom stories have on our mental health?
Well, by consuming doom and gloom stories our brains focus on these as an event that has occurred. We are still living in the height of the Covid 19 pandemic, which is already telling us that the world is a dangerous and unsafe place and then last week with the stories of Sarah Everard, Meghan Markle and the recent Caroline Flack documentary, our brains would have trigger stacked these events reinforcing any beliefs that we hold that mean the world is unsafe. By constantly consuming these news stories only our brains focus on these and delete anything that doesn’t fit the criteria. If we have experienced any distressing past events this new information will act as reinforcement to these old events especially if we have not processed them. This is then distorted and generalised and our internal representation is that ‘the world is unsafe’. If we feel the world is unsafe we then operate utilising our limbic system which is commonly known as ‘fight or flight’ our body releases hormones and we are more likely to experience anxiety, anger, frustration and fatigue. If you think we have been doing this for around a year on and off with the pandemic around us anyway no wonder so many of us are heading towards burnout.
It’s important that, if you’re feeling burnt out from the news cycle, that you alter the way you consume news to make your overall experience a little more positive.
So how can we change this? We can change how we take information in. By focusing on all news stories and not just the emotive ones we are giving ourselves a more rounded representation of the world around us. If you have seen the story once try not to revisit the same story over and over. For example if you watch the news don’t watch every news programme choose 1. If you look at social media make sure you look across different news articles. Remember that social media such as facebook utilise targeted ads to customers so the more you look at specific things, the more you get shown. Break it up and search for different things such as holidays, animals and hobbies you enjoy.
Looking at personal development such as short courses, reading, watching episodes of a good series or listening to a good podcast are great ways of keeping in touch with current affairs without getting ‘sucked in’ to the negative news cycle. There are positive news sources such as the happy newspaper and good news network so consider adding these to your news exposure. This keeps our input more balanced therefore giving a more balanced representation.
If your feeling burnt out from the news cycle definitely consider a digital detox. This can look different for different people and the key is to put some boundaries in. You may find it helpful to unfollow any accounts that don’t feel aligned to you. If you search for things that bring you joy this will naturally balance out your news feed. Consider having targeted times to look at the news rather than reacting to notifications. You may also decide to turn notifications off to all social media platforms for a period of time. Some people even turn phones off altogether. You need to do what works for you and it will probably be a bit of trial and error whilst you learn what works. The benefits of doing this means that our limbic system comes out of fight/ flight, hormone levels return to normal, and we can feel safe again.
Our worlds have become so immersed in social media and online world it merges with our reality. We are all addicted to our tech and are often ‘reacting to’ online world rather than ‘creating’ our own experiences. In the pandemic with all the working from home, life balance has become very different and the boundaries have merged. It is so important to remove ourselves from the online world to look after our mental health. How often varies from person to person but I would definitely recommend doing this at least once per day. Stepping away from screens, interacting with family and friends, going for a walk, doing a hobby like exercise, cooking, reading anything that ground us in the present moment. By starting to practice mindfulness activities we can release the stress and strain that we have both experienced in a real and virtual sense.
I hope you found this helpful! Take care everybody