Negative news is everywhere. We don’t even need to seek it out—it comes to us. It’s hard to avoid and can become almost addictive. For some, obsessive and constant checking for new articles on computers and smartphones has become harmfully habitual; it’s referred to by many as “doom scrolling.” This has become much more common during the Covid-19 pandemic. And like other addictions, it can affect our mental health.
The Effect of News on Our Mental and Physical Health
Negative news can cause mental and physical symptoms such as anxiety, depression, fatigue and digestive problems. Consuming too much news can cause many people to live in a stressful state of worry, impending doom and helplessness.
Some people are affected more than others. Some people are affected but don’t realize it or correlate their anxiety, depression or other mental health issues as being caused by repeated exposure to negative news. Watching negative media coverage of a traumatic event can cause some individuals to experience it as though they were there themselves.
Doomsday scenarios and improbable threats perpetuated by the media or social media, such as a black hole devouring Earth, can cause anxiety and fear in people who were unaware that a possibility (no matter how extreme) exists. For many, seeing, reading or hearing something in the news or reading a post by a trusted source gives it credibility and is taken as fact.
Negative News Surrounds Us
Negative news is difficult to avoid unless you don’t have a TV, radio, computer, smartphone or any other device capable of reporting the news. But of course, there are also tabloids and magazines lining the checkout lanes, full of shocking headlines. Even if you manage to avoid all these news sources, friends, family, colleagues and others are often eager to share the latest tragedy.
What makes the impact of the news even more powerful are the images. Film crews are no longer essential for a reporter when covering a story. The public can often provide “caught on tape” and other at-the-scene footage of events and disasters. Many of these images are much more graphic than would “normally” be shown to the public if filmed by the news crew.
Not all news is negative. There are a few uplifting stories sprinkled in—like a dog rescued from a raging river. But even these seemingly harmless reports can lead to anxiety—triggering individuals to go down the “what if” rabbit hole.
What’s more, you don’t need to be consciously paying attention to the news for it to cause mental or physical symptoms. Some use the news as background noise, and although consciously they may not notice the effects of the negativity on their psychological or physical health. But the results are the same.
How to Limit News Exposure
There are ways to limit our exposure to negative news and its effects on our mental and physical health while still keeping informed. A few options are:
Limit time spent with the radio or TV on (even as background noise)
Limit online news consumption
Limit time spent on social media
Unsubscribe to email newsletters with negative views
Turn off social media notifications on phones and computers
Don’t engage in conversations related to news (Change the subject)
Don’t consume news close to bedtime (It can make it difficult to sleep)
In the current state of the country and the world, it’s more important than ever to protect ourselves from the influences of negativity that are all around us. It can help to talk about our fears and anxiety with a mental healthcare professional. They listen without judgment and can create a plan to help improve our mental health.