How to protect your mental health when the news is so stressful

Nikki Stevenson

Nikki Stevenson

Nikki is a parenting writer and a mom to three wild boys who keep her on her toes (and occasionally make her question her sanity). With over 15 years of experience in the parenting industry, she has more tips and tricks than Mary Poppins on speed dial. When she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can find her sipping on coffee, hiding in the bathroom for five minutes of...
Updated on Jan 20, 2024 · 5 mins read
How to protect your mental health when the news is so stressful

In today’s fast-paced world, staying informed is essential. As a writer who is deeply engaged with the happenings of the world, I understand the importance of being up-to-date with current events. However, I’ve also come to realise that the constant exposure to distressing news can have a significant impact on our mental well-being. The media landscape bombards us with a never-ending stream of information, often filled with stories that evoke anxiety, sadness, and fear. With a lot of ‘fake news’ thrown into the mix to really throw us off. It’s hard to deny the psychological toll that the news cycle can have on our overall well-being. In this article, we will delve into the psychological effects of news consumption, uncover the reasons behind its impact on mental health, and explore practical strategies that can help us protect our well-being in the face of an overwhelming news cycle.

It’s no secret that news stories can evoke strong emotions. From global crises to local tragedies, news outlets often focus on negative events that stir our emotions and capture our attention. Clickbait anyone? However, repeated exposure to distressing news can lead to heightened anxiety, stress, and even depression. The constant influx of negative information can create a sense of helplessness and contribute to a negative worldview. It’s important to recognise the emotional impact of news consumption and take steps to protect our mental health.

The role of information overload

In the digital age, information is readily available at our fingertips. While this accessibility has its advantages, it also exposes us to an overwhelming amount of news, often leading to information overload. Some (namely me) may argue that we were never meant to know what was happening in every corner of the world at any given moment – nor should we. Consuming excessive news can leave us feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and mentally exhausted. The 24/7 news cycle, fueled by social media and instant notifications, makes it challenging to disconnect and find respite from the constant flow of information. Finding a balance between staying informed and maintaining our well-being is crucial.

Understanding the psychological mechanisms

Several psychological mechanisms contribute to the impact of news on our mental health. The human brain has a natural inclination to pay more attention to negative information, known as the negativity bias – so it’s not just you! This bias evolved as a survival mechanism, but in today’s media landscape, it can lead to heightened anxiety and distress. Additionally, the sensationalism and dramatisation of news stories by media outlets further intensify emotional responses, triggering stress in viewers. By understanding these psychological mechanisms, we can better navigate the effects of news consumption on our well-being.

Protecting your mental health

Mindful News Consumption: Being mindful of our news consumption is crucial for protecting our mental well-being. Limiting exposure to news, choosing reliable sources (this is a biggie!), and seeking a balanced perspective are essential strategies. Setting specific times for news consumption and avoiding constant updates throughout the day can help prevent overconsumption and reduce stress and anxiety. Prioritising trusted and reputable news sources known for their accurate and balanced reporting can contribute to a healthier news diet. Seeking a variety of news topics, including positive and uplifting stories, can help create a more balanced perspective and mitigate the negative impact of distressing news.

Self-Care and Emotional Regulation: Taking care of your mental health is vital when navigating the news landscape. Establishing boundaries and engaging in self-care practices can help protect your well-being. Setting aside dedicated periods of time for activities that bring you joy and help you relax, such as hobbies, exercise, spending time in nature, or practising mindfulness, can help alleviate stress and anxiety. Developing techniques for emotional regulation, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or journaling, can also be beneficial. Balancing news consumption with activities that uplift your mood, such as spending time with loved ones, pursuing creative outlets, or engaging in hobbies you enjoy, can contribute to your overall well-being. It must be said, that you don’t need to stay up to date with the news all the time. If you would rather read something off your BookTok list, watch cute cat videos, or consume fun parenting articles (wink, wink) – do just that. Don’t let public opinion force you to be ‘on top’ of world news at all times.

Critical Thinking and Media Literacy: Enhancing your critical thinking skills and media literacy can help you navigate news stories more effectively. Fact-checking information before sharing or reacting to news stories is crucial to prevent the spread of misinformation and minimise anxiety caused by inaccurate reporting. Seeking multiple perspectives and exposing yourself to diverse viewpoints and opinions can help develop a well-rounded understanding of complex issues. Questioning narratives, challenging sensationalism and biases, and analysing news stories critically can empower you to make informed judgments and maintain a healthier perspective.

Protecting Children’s Mental Health: Children are also susceptible to the emotional impact of distressing news. Tailoring news discussions to their developmental level, monitoring media exposure, and fostering open communication are key strategies. Providing age-appropriate explanations, filtering content they consume, and encouraging activities that promote healthy coping mechanisms can help children manage stress and anxiety caused by news.

The impact of news consumption on sleep and well-being

One often overlooked aspect of news consumption is its impact on sleep and overall well-being. Many individuals have the habit of scrolling through news articles or checking social media feeds before bedtime, exposing themselves to distressing news right before sleep. Research has shown that exposure to negative news content close to bedtime can disrupt sleep patterns and quality, resulting in feelings of fatigue and reduced cognitive function the next day. By implementing a “news curfew” and creating a buffer zone between news consumption and bedtime, you can improve your sleep quality and overall mental well-being.

In an era of constant news updates and information overload, safeguarding our mental health becomes paramount. By practising mindful news consumption, we can navigate the news cycle while preserving our mental and emotional well-being. Staying informed is important, but taking care of ourselves and our children’s mental health should always be a top priority.

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