When I am anxious, or troubled, one of the worst things I can do is to watch the news. Or read a news site. I have gone through periods when I felt I had to check the news regularly to make sure nothing horrible was happening. And I have had periods of time when avoiding the media was about the only way to keep my head up. So I have huge sympathy for people who are struggling with the input of the news into their lives.
It’s not an illusion- exposure to even 15 minutes of bad news actually does cause an increase in anxiety and the loss of positive mood. And without active efforts to relax and restore the mind, these effects persist.
Is it necessary for people who struggle emotionally to live like a hermit? Or are there ways to control how much the news affects us? Only you can know the answer for yourself, but, after a few years of thought, these are the strategies that work for me.
1. Know Yourself.
It is perfectly okay to avoid the media, especially when you are struggling. Go ahead and ask yourself, “Is this bad day going to be made any better by adding in the troubles of a person hundreds of miles away?” If the answer is no, then don’t check the news. You can tell people I gave you permission, if it helps.
Try to figure out why you are consuming news, and what the least harmful way is to meet those needs.
- Are you trying to be a well-informed citizen who wants to know how to vote on an issue? I support that, but it’s hard to avoid getting the news you don’t need, too. It might be better to try going direct to the websites of the parties involved. That way you won’t accidentally be exposed to something overwhelming.
- Do you want to have something to talk about at work? You can Google the scores of last night’s games and any events you are interested in. Or try checking out some positive news sites. Talking about these stories will make the people around you feel better, too.
- Is it a habit, something you’ve always done without much thought as to why, or whether you actually want to? You are allowed to change. You might even like it. And, I promise, anything really world-shaking will get to you eventually.
- Or, are you bored and looking for input? This is a very powerful motivation. In fact, hitting a new piece of information causes a tiny burst of dopamine to be released in the brain. It’s the same chemical high we get from sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll and it’s a powerful motivator to keep reading. This is why people browse tumblr or Reddit or Facebook for hours.
Those droplets of dopamine are meant to reward us for doing new things, learning, and growing as a person. And we can get so much pleasure from that brain stimulation that we look forward eagerly to our next dose. An expectancy effect causes us to go seeking stimulus. There is nothing wrong with this, unless we lose control of it, or if some large media corporation uses it to sell us to their advertisers. Which they do.
Tomorrow, I’ll write about knowing the media, and offer a few practical ideas on managing your media diet. But, in the meantime, tell me, are there good reasons for consuming news that I’ve missed?