The More You Know: How to Stay Informed, But Protect Yourself
If you feel exhausted, depleted, overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed after watching the news (or the State of the Union coverage), you are far from alone.
In the past year, more than half of the 95 percent of Americans who regularly follow the news said it has had a negative effect on them, according to a recent report from the American Psychological Association (APA). It’s a concerning statistic with real health implications.
“With 24-hour news networks and conversations with friends, family and other connections on social media, it’s hard to avoid the constant stream of stress around issues of national concern,” Arthur C. Evans Jr., Ph.D., APA’s chief executive officer, told the APA. “These can range from mild, thought-provoking discussions to outright, intense bickering, and, over the long term, conflict like this may have an impact on health. Understanding that we all still need to be informed about the news, it’s time to make it a priority to be thoughtful about how often and what type of media we consume.”
If you often feel exhausted, depleted, overwhelmed, anxious or depressed after watching the news, you are far from alone.
But even knowing this, it can still feel impossible to step away from Twitter or resist spending hours on your uncle’s latest political Facebook rant. Compelling stories, FOMO, feeling like it's our responsiblity to stay informed—these are a few of the many reasons that keep us constantly scrolling through our Twitter feeds.
In this age of constant news, what can we do to protect ourselves? Here, a few tips on how to practice news self-care:
1. Give Yourself Permission to Step Away
Yes, it’s OK to take a break from the news. When we have a constant stream of information, opinions, and images coming at us, we tend to forget the value of taking time to process what we’ve absorbed. We may not be sure what to do with this information or how to put it into context.
It is superhuman to think that we can take in all of this stimuli and function without regularly stepping away.
It is superhuman to think that we can take in all of this stimuli and function without regularly stepping away. Stepping away gives you the time and space you need to process what you read and also to recharge. In the end, it’ll help you make more sense of the news.
2. Pay Attention to Your Feels
When you’re feeling down or overwhelmed, consider how a session of binge-reading news stories (and the comments following them) might affect you. If you feel like it will be too much, maybe close those 10 CNN tabs you have open.
Also: If you find yourself clutching your coffee cup with an increasingly strong kung fu grip as you scroll Twitter, take note. Pay attention to how you’re feeling before and after reading the news.
Many of my clients talk about how self-monitoring helps when they’re reading news stories. Some take a brief break from the news if they’re going through rough personal times or when they’re exhausted by what they’ve read. And that break? It’s restorative and exactly what they need to do to recharge.
3. Start Your Day With Mindful Smartphone Use
Pay attention to your habits. Are you reading negative news stories before you’ve uttered a word to another human? Research shows there is a “direct link between exposure to information and feeling overwhelmed by stress,” according to Fulfillment Daily, and even a brief news story is associated with increases in negative mood and anxiety.
If reading the news first thing is bringing you down, create a new habit to begin your day. Put your meditation or daily positive affirmation app on your home screen. Squeeze in a morning workout, or use free time to unwind by breathing, connecting with a friend, or reading. It’s OK to have a go-to habit that doesn’t involve headlines.
4. Take Action
Feeling distressed after reading the news and not sure how to deal? You may want to join the many who have channelled distress into something that improves their emotional wellbeing.
According to the APA’s Stress in America survey, over the past year, more than half of Americans have been inspired to volunteer or join causes meaningful to them. If you care about a particular cause, try joining a protest, signing a petition, or calling your local representative. Taking action can help relieve the stress of inaction.
5. Add In a Dose of Positive News
One antidote to negative news can be positive news, which (not surprisingly) research shows can have a positive effect on your mood. And positive news is, in fact, out there—it just might take a little digging. Break up your hard news-heavy newsfeed by following self-care accounts and outlets that also cover inspiring, uplifting news.
6. Remember the Power of Choice
We can’t always control the news, but we can always choose where we direct our focus. It’s your right to step away from the news when it’s impacting your wellbeing. It’s your right to go off Twitter for a few days—or weeks, or months. It’s your right to have a “no news on my phone” policy and switch to reading a straight up newspaper every day (still remember those?).
It’s important to stay informed—but also to protect yourself while you learn and soak in the news. And looking out for yourself? It’ll help you recharge and be a more thoughtful news reader and activist in the long run.
Read next: How I'm Protecting My Energy in 2018