Anyone who remembers 9/11 will recall that for days after, the only thing that seemed to be shown on TV was footage of the planes hitting the World Trade Center, the buildings collapsing, and fallout from the attacks. For many of us, the barrage of reminders took a toll on our mental health. While it’s important to stay apprised of world events, consuming too much bad news, whether via television, print media, or online, negatively impacts our health.
How Much is Too Much?
While the answer might be different for each person, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests only watching the news a couple of times per day, especially during high-stress periods, such as the pandemic or a military conflict.
If you want to help yourself follow these guidelines, NPR suggests the following:
- Set a timer. When it goes off, you’re done with news until the next time you are scheduled to consume it again.
- Think about why you’re reading/watching this story. By thinking about what you want from a news report and why you want it, you might make better choices about which news to take in.
- Enjoy something happy instead. If you’re finding yourself drawn to doom and gloom, seek out some news that makes you smile and restores your faith in humanity. Consider sharing what you find with loved ones to spread the cheer.
Fighting the Effects of Too Much Bad News
Jacqueline Sperling, a clinical psychologist with Harvard University, suggests several things people can do to prevent themselves from suffering negative consequences of too much bad news:
- Avoid photos and videos – graphic imagery of people suffering is far more likely to induce a strong emotional reaction. Opt for radio instead.
- Reduce time spent on international news – this news is less likely to impact your daily life and more likely to include frightening or disturbing information.
- Turn off the news once it starts to repeat – cable news stations tend to repeat the same news for hours on end, and rewatching the same upsetting news story repeatedly can reinforce negative feelings.
- Focus on self-care – before you even start to feel worn out by all of the bad news, turn off the TV, computer, or your phone and get outdoors for some exercise. Read a book, go to bed early, spend time with your family, or do other things that help you to recharge your batteries.
- Put your money or effort into addressing matters you find concerning – if something you saw on the news was distressing to you, consider volunteering or donating money to support those who are addressing the problem. Mr. Rogers is famous for saying that his mother told him to look for helpers in dark situations; by taking action, you can become one of those helpers.
Optimists Struggle Less with the Effects of Bad News
By seeking out good news and focusing on self-care, you’re also pushing yourself toward an optimistic mindset, which some studies suggest can make people more resilient and able to resist the tendency to become depressed or anxious because of what they see on the news. The Mayo Clinic has some additional suggestions for building mental resilience:
- Nurture relationships – build strong connections with your friends, family, and community.
- Find meaning – if you achieve even a small goal each day, that will help the day to feel more purposeful.
- Learn from your past – if you’ve endured setbacks before, remember how you got through them and try to apply that wisdom to current struggles.
- Focus on keeping hope – remind yourself that you experienced dark times before and that you got through them.
- Take action – don’t ignore problems or hope that they will just go away or work themselves out. Even if you cannot resolve the whole issue today, taking a small step forward might make the situation more manageable or help you to see that the problem isn’t as big as you initially thought.
If you have questions about mental health in general, mental resilience, or environmental factors that can damage mental health, Highland Hospital in West Virginia has a team of professionals who can help you find the answers you need.