I quit cold turkey in 2018. I swore I'd never do it again, and I stayed true to my word. Within a week of making that decision, I began to notice positive changes in my mood. I slept better and laughed more often. I began to have better confidence and less anxiety. Overall, I felt GREAT.
I stayed clean for nearly two years until COVID happened. That's when I fell off the wagon. I told myself I'll just do a little...I've got control of this. I justified my need by telling myself that doing this keeps me safe and helps me make better decisions. Who doesn't want to keep themself and their family safe? I took in just a sample but noticed that even this small intake caused my mood to crash and my anger to increase. I had to get back on the wagon.
Now, before I disappoint or shock you too much, spoiler alert, I'm not talking about drug addiction or any addiction for that matter. Nope. I'm actually talking about taking a LOOOONG break from watching the news or reading news headlines. You know, CNN, MSNBC, Fox, etc.
I will hold myself back from going on a long tirade about how the news manipulates rather than informs and instead just say that I hardly ever end my news-watching sessions feeling good. I want to stay informed because there are serious issues our Nation and the World face, but I got so tired of feeling depressed and helpless.
Come to find out, clinical depression has been what several research studies have found is the end result of being exposed to too much news. Additionally, research has shown that too much media exposure can lead to feelings of helplessness which contribute to clinical-grade anxiety and even PTSD.
Terms have been invented to describe news coverage today. "Doomscrolling", "headline anxiety" and "clickbait" all describe the oversaturation of negative news coverage. And while the oversaturation of bad news by the media is not a new phenomenon, the domain of negative news is no longer confined to television and print news outlets, it also infiltrates our social media feeds too, making it seem impossible to escape.
But why is negative news so prolific? Because it's profitable and ad agencies have learned the art and science of hacking our biology for profit and here's how.
We are biologically hardwired to remember bad things easier than remember good things. We may go through life with the mantra "no regrets", but that mantra must be applied and reapplied often because it fights against human psychological evolution (or actually the lack of it). In psycho-babble terms, the ability to easily remember bad things is called negativity bias. This bias can be described as an evolutionary survival mechanism designed to help us remember bad things in order to learn from them and survive.
So, the more bad news piped our way, the more we instinctively consume it. The more news we consume, the more ads we watch, and thus the more the news agencies get paid. News media agencies might say they want to inform us, but only because it generates profit. Their ad partners have hacked our psychology by activating our negativity bias in order to turn a profit. So, while they drown in ad revenue dollars, you and I are drowning in depression and anxiety. Is that fair? I don't think so. So, what can we do?
Here are three things you can do. First, limit your exposure to news media across all media platforms. This can be a very tailored approach, similar to dieting strategies. You can completely fast from the news for a time period, you can eliminate the prolific bad news sources, or you can set a time limit to limit your exposure. Second, you can use specific apps that filter the news for you and gives only the headlines. I use Google News and Flipbook. An alternative to this is to pick one news outlet unaffiliated with corporate news agencies and only access that news. I have used AP News and Reuters with fairly good results. The third option addresses the psychological impact of watching negative news and that is to talk to a therapist.
As a therapist myself, I've talked to countless clients working their way through depression and anxiety after the pandemic. How ironic that so many of us were quarantined to protect ourselves from COVID, only to be exposed to the media's oversaturated coverage of COVID and suffer depression and anxiety as a result.
For more information on the research done to uncover the connection between the news and our mental health and which contributed to this blog post, click here.
If you feel you need to talk and process some things you're going through, feel free to reach out to me, or you can go to my booking website by clicking here.
In the next blog post, I'll discuss the growing trend of rewriting history and how that negatively affects our mental wellness.