A generation or so ago, your exposure to the news was most likely limited to reading a daily newspaper or watching the evening news on TV. For the rest of the day, you wouldn’t even have access to news. And, in the times when you did consume news, it was generally delivered in a straightforward, matter-a-fact style.
Access to news is different these days. “The news is constantly available to us,” said Tyler Jones, MD, chief medical officer at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital in Scottsdale, AZ. Some TV stations deliver news around the clock. Plus, your cell phone, tablet or computer can deliver news all day, every day. And headlines and stories are designed to capture your attention and draw you in. “Nonstop news can generate stress hormones, like cortisol and can increase feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, and anger,” Dr. Jones said.
Here’s why negative news impacts us so much
“We insert or imagine ourselves in other’s stories and over-identify with negative news,” Dr. Jones said. That’s because our brains are wired for a negativity bias. “From an evolutionary perspective, there used to be an advantage to paying attention to news that was alarming or depressing. But now those same tendencies are exploited to increase our engagement in the news that may not be useful to us,” Dr. Jones said.
Here’s how the nonstop news cycle can cause health problems
Some low-level, temporary stress can be helpful. For example, stress can motivate you to meet a deadline. But you need breaks from stress. “The stress you can experience from nonstop news can lead to a variety of health-related concerns,” Dr. Jones said. It can:
- Impact your appetite, leading you to eat more or less than you need
- Make you more likely to use alcohol, nicotine or drugs
- Trigger weight gain
- Increase your risk of high blood pressure
- Lead to abnormal heart rhythms
- Cause acid reflux or irritable bowel disease
- Trigger anxiety or depression
Here's how you can take control of your news consumption
Dr. Jones recommends these strategies to reduce the stress the news can cause:
- Examine how you feel before and after reading the news and the impact it has on you. “Pay particular attention to physical signs, like tension in your shoulders or jaw,” he said.
- Look at your usage patterns and limit your consumption of distressing and negative news if necessary. Pick a neutral, fact-based news source — that way, you’ll reduce the sensationalism that’s designed to heighten your engagement. Schedule set, limited times to consume news, and focus on news that enriches you rather than enrages you. You want to stay informed without generating excessive worry.
- Consider why you feel it’s necessary to consume news and whether the value of the news is worth the time you’re dedicating to it. It can be worthwhile to be aware of current events but most of the time, the headlines in the news don’t impact you directly. “There’s no reason to take in all this information unless it’s useful in some way,” Dr. Jones said.
- Evaluate whether you are consuming news or sophisticated gossip. News should inform you or help prepare you for something that could impact you, not just engage you for advertising and exposure. Ask yourself, is the news the product, or is your engagement and internet traffic the product?
- Avoid social media. “The platforms are built to heighten your engagement through whatever means necessary,” Dr. Jones said. “On social media platforms, we are not always the audience. We are often the product since the platform is delivering our eyes to advertisers.”
- Seek out good news and share those stories.
- Take a walk or do something productive after you’ve consumed the news.
The bottom line
The relentless stream of nonstop news — mostly negative — can lead to stress, and stress can harm your health. Smart strategies can help you stay informed without becoming overwhelmed. If you would like to connect with a behavioral health expert who can personalize strategies to help you stay well, reach out to Banner Health.