Is Constant Access To News Affecting You More Than You Know?

Wake up, grab your cell phone, check your Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Local News Feed. Get out of bed, brush your teeth, turn on the news, check your social media apps again, make some coffee, refresh your news feed, eat some breakfast, get in your car, drive to work, hit traffic, scroll through your apps, get to work, grab more coffee, sit at your desk, turn on your computer, read the news online, check your phone again.

This routine has become second nature to many of us and within each of these social media applications there is some type of news feed.  Yesterday, I watched President Obama’s entire day on Snapchat.  The ability to learn pertinent information about current events within minutes, seconds, of it happening, is a concept that seemed incomprehensible less than 100 years ago.  In many ways, instant access is beneficial: it allows us to stay informed which leads to quicker responses, more immediate safety measures, and communication between anyone who was involved and their loved ones.  

But does it also come at a cost?  World news stories are dramatic, fear-provoking, and relaying information of devastation, catastrophe, disaster, or emergency.  Local news stories are known to be slightly more uplifting, but here in Chicago, it is a daily occurrence to see a family crying over a loved one lost to gun violence.  Robberies are rampant, political cronyism apparent, schools closing due to financial distress.  People afraid to leave their homes for fear of being mugged or murdered, children without a stable school environment, a lack of control over how things are run within our city.  This is what our local news is highlighting when we first wake up, when we are eating dinner with our families, when we are settling into the evening.  While it is very important to stay informed, the news does not relay information in a way that motivates people to take a stand, fight for change, and feel hopeful for societal betterment.  It exploits one chapter of a larger story and provokes fear and anxiety into the audience.

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines news as, “newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or important events.”  What the news source decides to be noteworthy or important is subjective though and at times, biased.  Many news sources focus on stories that provoke fear in the viewers and are deemed to be negative.  News sources do this intentionally to grab people’s attention and keep them engaged, because the more viewers, subscribers, or hits there are, the more successful that news platform becomes.  These negative, fear-provoking stories can have a tremendous psychological impact on those at the receiving end.  

In an article published in Psychology Today, author Ray Williams writes, “Is the media negative? Media studies show that bad news far outweighs good news by as much as seventeen negative news reports for every one good news report. Why? The answer may lie in the work of evolutionary psychologists and neuroscientists.  Humans seek out news of dramatic, negative events.  Many studies have shown that we care more about the threat of bad things than we do about the prospect of good things. Our negative brain tripwires are far more sensitive than our positive triggers.  We tend to get more fearful than happy. And each time we experience fear we turn on our stress hormones.”  

Additionally, the article, What Constant Exposure to Negative News Does to Our Health, by Caroline Gregoire, states, “viewing negative news means that you’re likely to see your own personal worries as more threatening and severe, and when you do start worrying about them, you’re more likely to find your worry difficult to control and more distressing than it would normally be.  The way that negative news affects your mood can also have a larger effect on how you interpret and interact with the world around you. If it makes you more anxious or sad for instance, then you may subconsciously become more attuned to negative or threatening events, and you may be more likely to see ambiguous or neutral events as negative ones. "These images change our overall mood to a more negative one — more sad or more anxious — and it is this change in mood that leads to psychological changes in the way we attend to things around us (e.g. we are more likely to pick out things in our environment that are potentially negative or threatening),” Davey explains.  This can have a vicious cycle effect on mood generally for some time.   Some research has even suggested that viewing traumatic images in the media can cause PTSD-like symptoms.”

So how do we stay informed as a society without letting these stories of terror keep us up at night and subconsciously drive our perceptions towards negativity in the limited moments we have actually stepped away from the television, computer, or cell phone? 

The first step to any change is awareness and that is my motivation for writing this piece. Following, are some ways you can bring awareness to how the news-based media you are engaging in is affecting you.

  • Notice how many of the articles or news stories you are retaining are negative or fear-provoking. Recognize if after reading or watching a story, you feel any symptoms of worry or anxiety. A sinking feeling in your stomach, faster heartbeat, sweaty palms, or thinking of potential consequences of something bad happening, are all signs that these stories are having a negative effect on you.  
  • Limit the number of times you check the news to once or twice a day.  
  • Occasionally choose a different news network or website to avoid being influenced by reoccurring biases.  
  • After viewing or reading an upsetting news story, take time to meditate silently.  Allow your mind to process the information, acknowledge why it is upsetting to you, think if there are any ways you can make a positive contribution, and end by focusing on a positive memory, experience, or scenery. 
  • Lastly, balance out the negative with positive.  Try starting your day by setting positive intentions and ending your day with thankful reflection instead of media.  
  • If you cannot break away from the media outlets, then start and end your day watching or reading something that evokes laughter/happiness within you, such as puppies napping on a hammock. 


Author: Nicole Elman, LCSW

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