Information Overload: When staying too informed is bad for your mental health
How many times do you switch on your local news channel, only to hear more announcements about the doom and gloom happening around the world? How often have you been in a good mood, only to have it instantly crushed by the latest Covid-19 update? How many times have you heard a politician you don’t agree with speak, and became instantly annoyed just by the sound of their voice, let alone whatever policy or movement they are trying to promote? On top of reading or watching the world news, as President Trump likes to insist, there is also SO much “fake news”. Whilst staying up to date with current affairs is important, at what point do you acknowledge the impact it has on your mental health and well-being?
In a world where information is available at the touch of a button, we as a society have never been more informed with current affairs; but with this opportunity, it also means we are never truly able to switch off from the world around us. There are hourly news reports on the radio and TV; news apps on our phones flashing up with the latest “BREAKING NEWS” stories; local community pages; Netflix series on true life events; social media apps. All these different avenues are constantly providing you with more updates and information about the world around us. But with all this information, how on earth are you supposed to know what’s real and what’s not – except of course all the know-it-alls with a degree in Facebook Idiocy that share stories about how unicorns aren’t fake, because they saw another story posted on their friend’s Facebook, so it MUST be true.
The media we consume on a daily basis has an impact on our thinking, emotions and behaviour. A lot of the time now, a lot of the news we consume isn’t so much about reporting the news, but more about keeping you addicted to the news cycle. Think about it. How many times have you seen the news constantly giving just a segment of information about a story, just to say “more on this later”, piquing your interest and keeping you tuned in to their show? Most of the news we are consuming now revolves around the Coronavirus crisis. While it is important to stay up to date with that is happening both locally and globally, over-consumption of the news WILL take a toll on your physical, emotional, and mental health.
Watching the news can activate your sympathetic nervous system, causing your body to release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones), when reacting to certain news stories, even if you simply have the news on in the background. During the Coronavirus crisis, these news stories will be featured more and more frequently, featuring alarmist vocabulary and sinister tones; causing this stress response to happen more and more often. As a result, the consumer will end up feeling symptoms like fatigue, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
The psychological toll of watching the news was demonstrated in a study in the British Journal of Psychology:
Three groups were shown 14‐min TV news bulletins that were edited to display either positive‐, neutral‐ or negative‐valenced material. Participants who watched the negatively valenced bulletin showed increases in both anxious and sad mood, and also showed a significant increase in the tendency to catastrophize a personal worry. The results are consistent with those theories of worry that implicate negative mood as a causal factor in facilitating worrisome thought. They also suggest that negatively valenced TV news programmes can exacerbate a range of personal concerns that are not specifically relevant to the content of the programme.
What can you do to limit the negative impact that news may have on your body?
1) Put simply, limit your news consumption and your willingness to let it impact your thoughts.
Set yourself a time where you will read, watch, or listen to the news and keep to that routine. That way your mind will adapt to accepting this news at the same time each day and can start to prepare for whatever you may hear.
2) STAY AWAY FROM THE NEWS IF YOU’RE IN A GOOD MOOD!
I cannot stress this enough, if you are having a good day, are happy, or feeling relaxed after a yoga session (especially the ones taught by yours truly), do NOT watch the news. That is like taking a cake out of the oven before it has fully cooked: you will feel elated and have high spirits, only to be instantly deflated and feeling like a stodgy cake. Although just like the cake will still be delicious, you will still be good… but not until your mind has recovered from the stress.
3) Schedule time to worry
If you know you are prone to anxious thoughts or susceptible to stress, allocate yourself some time each day to simply sit with your emotions and work through them all. You can do this through meditation, journalling, talking to a loved one, making a podcast – whatever works for you to help you ease the mental strain.
4) Limit your exposure to other people or places that cause stress
If you have that aunt who is always posting that vaccinations kill people and don’t save them without having any evidentiary support, block them from your feed! Anyone or any thing that may cause you to feel more stress on your day to day basis should be removed! If you find you have a friend that constantly wants to talk about current affairs, regardless of whether you want to or not, have a frank conversation with them. Tell them that it is not good for your mindset to be fixated on the current issues and you would rather talk about the adorable puppy you saw on your daily walk yesterday. If the person doesn’t understand, tell them to stop talking to you and walk away.
5) Do something that makes you happy and grounded afterwards
If you find yourself in a particularly bad mood after watching the news, do something that makes you happy. Take a walk; go for a run; call your best friend for a chat; bake your banana bread; continue your cross stitch; do some yoga (see how I snuck that in there!) – anything that can improve your mood and mindset will help!
6) Watch or read some articles about good news.
I am not lying to you, there is such a thing as good news! Why not balance out the negativity by subscribing to some happy and positive news updates? Here are a few of my favourite upbeat sites for good news, guaranteed to brighten your day:
In honour of Mental Health Awareness Week, it is important not only to appreciate the hardships that those with mental health conditions have to deal with, but also to take time and evaluate your own mental well-being. Are you happy? Are you anxious? Do you need someone to talk to or are not sure where to go from here? Reach out to your friends and family, comment on this post, or look at some of the sites below to see if they can help you:
If you like what you read, drop a comment below. If you know someone who may benefit from this post, feel free to share!
Sending happy thoughts!