Do you find yourself down, distressed or depressed after watching or reading the news? If so, you’re not alone. More and more, as we’ve become inundated with information, we’re presented with news and current events that are difficult to process. Fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods… and those are just the natural disasters! Add to that a bevy of political news, most of it coming from one country in particular, and sometimes it’s just too much, isn’t it? So what are we supposed to do? If we tune out, doesn’t that make us unaware, maybe even ignorant? What are our responsibilities, as Canadians and as global citizens? And how do we balance those against our responsibilities to ourselves and to our families? Read on to learn about ways in which you can strategically “tune out” from the noise and static, and make your day-to-day life less stressful and more manageable.
Information Bombardment, and the Increase of Depressing News
Chances are, wherever you are at any given moment (and almost certainly while you’re reading this!), you’ve got information coming at you at what seems like 200 km/h. Work, school, social media, TV, radio, newspapers… all of these venues and channels hit us with a constant stream of information. Information bombardment, in many cases. Information overload? Quite possibly. And how much of this information would we categorize as “positive” versus “neutral” versus “negative?” Positive news is helpful, of course. At best, the majority of facts, figures and other data we deal with probably falls in the ‘neutral category. And then there’s the negative. Its actual percentage might not be that high – then again, it doesn’t have to be. People tend to focus on and remember negative things more than neutral or positive. What kind of negatives are we pressed with nowadays? What’s the “bad news” that has us so distressed? Well, it tends to fall into a handful of categories:
- News that hits with potentially immediate and/or direct impact (layoffs, inflation, interest rates, etc.)
- News that may not affect us directly, but seems close in proximity (local news such as crime, fires, bad weather, etc.)
- News that, while not immediate or local, could affect us in the big picture or in the future (politics is a big one… also other socioeconomic issues that can get tense and divisive)
- News that’s far away but of a dire nature (hurricanes, earthquakes, violence, etc.)
The last two seem to get the biggest draw in headlines. They have an emotional component to them, and can take an emotional toll on us. Still, wouldn’t it be more logical that #1 be the most concerning to us? Perhaps we’re accustomed to those fluctuations, however, and have learned to take them in stride. News of natural disaster or terror attack that takes hundreds or thousands of lives, even if in a faraway land, is disheartening. The ongoing saga of the US elections and political process has taken most of us aback, seemingly exponentially in the past couple of years. Add those up, and they can most certainly lead us towards a depressing, negative place in our minds.
Still, what’s the alternative? You’re an intelligent person, and you want to remain informed about the goings on in the world. Fair enough. But if you’re reading this and you’ve gotten this far, there’s probably at least a part of you that wonders, “how much news is too much?” We’re not suggesting that you should tune out entirely. A cautious and strategic step (or two) back from the news, however, could be one of the best things to happen to you in a good while. How so? Keep reading…
How Much (Bad) News is Too Much?
From the perspective of those in the information business (news media, social media, et al), bad news sells. “If it bleeds, it leads,” was a slogan in the news business for many years. It probably still is, unofficially. TV networks and stations stay afloat by selling ads. Newspapers and magazines (remember print?!) sell ads and subscriptions. All of these are convening and conglomerating on the Internet nowadays, co-mingling with social media to give us a constant barrage of news, a substantial amount of it negative. On top of that, a relatively recent phenomenon has come about: “Fake News.” This came to light – and to a head – in the US presidential election of 2016.
Clearly, with fake news pervading the various pores of our information loop, there’s a point of diminishing returns, where “too much news” has actually driven us backwards with the facts (or absence thereof). Then there are the psychological effects of the news. The world isn’t actually falling apart or coming to an end (as far as we know, logically); but sometimes it sure can seem like it, can’t it? That’s what those who produce headlines would have you believe. But all this really accomplishes is to ratchet up our levels of anxiety and depression. The more negativity we’re exposed to, the more negative we tend to become. If this cycle is allowed to continue unfettered, we can spiral out of control in a fallacy of negative thinking and beliefs. That can spill over into nearly every aspect of our lives – if we let it. While it’s not 100% clear (though probably unlikely) that the news could cause depression or anxiety, in the clinical sense, it’s very likely that bad news can trigger or exacerbate these conditions in those people who are prone. At the very least, bad news can cause feelings of worry, sadness, anger, frustration, etc. – which mimic depression and anxiety, and certainly have negative consequences on our long-term emotional and physical health and well-being.
So what to do? Don’t click on the bait.
It’s Time to Take Control & Take Back Your Life
Stop clicking on those headlines. You know the ones. The headlines that contain bad news? Avoid them. It’s bad enough that they’re on the page, e.g. in your Facebook feed. Stay off the news sites. Limit and regulate your time on social media. You-know-who is on Twitter, so maybe don’t go there? Or at least don’t click on that tending hashtag! Turn off your TV, or at least away from the news channels. If you see an email or a message about bad news, what would be the harm if you deleted or simply ignored it?
Dr. Gail Saltz, Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at New York Presbyterian Hospital – Cornell Medical College, suggests some valuable strategies for coping with bad news – and taking control of your own life, rather than having the news control you.
Ask yourself, “What can I do to solve this problem (or contribute towards the solution)?” If you don’t have an immediate and clear answer (“I want to, but gosh, I just don’t know…”), move on. You can always come back to it later, if need be. Chances are, the problem will still be there (and if it’s been solved, even better!). You’ve got other things to address and fix in your life. Move on.
Distract yourself. Ruminating on negative thoughts or emotions is bad for us. Tempting, perhaps, but bad. Find something more positive to focus on. Play a game. Exercise. Exercise is a great one! It has so many positive benefits… it’s like the anti-news!
Be strategic with TV & Internet Exposure. Tune-in only in moderation, and only in controlled situations. Get the facts you need to know, only when it’s convenient for you, and then stay tuned out the rest of the time.
Eliminate or regulate your caffeine Depression and anxiety, or feelings thereof, can be magnified by drinking coffee and/or other caffeinated beverages. Controlling this can be a big step towards regaining your no-news equilibrium.
Make sleep a priority. We all need to sleep. Don’t fall into the “busy glory” trap and deprive yourself of sleep. And for sure, don’t exposure yourself to avenues of bad news before bedtime – turn off the TV (or keep it on Netflix comedies), and keep your smartphone use minimized (with a suggested moratorium before your head hits the pillow).
Accept uncertainty. This one can be a challenge for some people, especially for those who like being in control. See, that’s just the thing about bad news: it’s out of your control, and there’s no telling what might happen next. History has taught us that some bad things will occur in life. But there are still plenty of good things in this world. Go out and find them. Go out and make some happen!
How Can Counselling in Ottawa Help You?
If you’ve tried these steps and still find yourself overwhelmed, or if the whole thing is just too daunting and you need someone to talk to, we can help. Our counsellors are trained and experienced in the fields of depression, anxiety, general coping skills, and much more. In private, confidential sessions with you, they can determine whether you may be facing clinical depression and/or anxiety, and in either case will help you find ways and strategies for coping with this complicated and fast-paced world we live in. We encourage you to get in touch with Capital Choice Counselling and book a session to talk with a specialist.