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Balancing the Need for Information with Your Mental Health

Community News

There are so many sources of stress. Our own or a family member’s health issues, the death of a close family member, moving or changing jobs, relationship troubles, financial difficulty, guilt, and work- or school-related worries are all classic stressors. More and more, people identify the global situation and their exposure to news as a major source of stress. This makes sense, given the news cycles has been inundated with breaking headlines from COVID-19, protests, political races and global conflicts. While these stories are crucial in keeping the public informed of world events, we are feeling the toll of the news on our mental health.

Media outlets report on crises, disasters, or other stories that are likely to shock and draw in viewers. Our brain responds to this news as a threat, causing our nervous system to kick into fight or flight mode, producing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones can impact both our physical and mental health and cause symptoms such asdigestive upset, sweating, or a rapid heartbeat. Over time, we mightfeel tired or have difficulty sleeping. Some people break out with acne or get frequent headaches, while others experience change in appetite—either feeling insatiable or entirely losing interest in food.

When combined with the other stressors in our life, the news can leave us feeling anxious, depressed, or hopeless. Here are a few ideas for balancing the need for information with the need for health and wellbeing:

Phone a friend. Talking to someone close to you or reaching out to your local mental health agency can be a great first step. Sometimes, vocalizing how we are feeling and getting a little validation from another person allows us to feel heard and understood. It’s also a great way to realize that we are not alone with this struggle. Both friends and mental health professionals are great at reminding us of what is important and what excites us. 

Temporarily, turn off the news and disallow all but crucial apps from sending notifications. If we tune in for any time at all, a lot of the information we hear and see is repeated. Notification dinging and clanging can unnecessarily interrupt time that we need to take care of ourselves or relate with others. Taking a break from the news, for as long as is necessary, is an important and well-justified move. 

Meet basic needs. We can’t manage anything without taking care of ourselves. After reading a news article about the pandemic, you may be left feeling worried or uncertain about your future. Prevent yourself from obsessing over these thoughts by increasing your time spent in an uplifting activity. What one or two things can you do to improve your capacity? It could be taking a nap, cooking a meal, writing in a journal, cleaning, and organizing the house or car, taking a walk, saying a prayer, or checking one small thing off of the to-do list. These are all healthy distractions that will keep you in the present moment.

Use moderation. Information is important, so when you are ready, set aside a short amount of time each day for catching up with the news. Try setting aside regular time in the morning or afternoon to check your newsfeed or read the news and give yourself a time limit. Developing a routine allows you to stay up to date on the most important events without becoming consumed with the information on news sites. Some experts recommend no more than 30 minutes of news and social media time combined. Although, those who have difficulty even with short spurts of news might find it useful to cut it out entirely and ask a trusted friend or family member for a news summary.

Look for one or two reliable well-balanced sources. Rather than getting news from many different outlets, rely on a few thorough and well-balanced sources. This will decrease the amount of repetition of difficult stories.

Use slow news. By using slower forms of media—like high-quality radio, news podcasts, newspapers, or online publications—rather than television news, you get all of the information you need without exposing yourself to potentially disturbing video.

Take real action. Find a way that you can make some small impact towards the outcome you want. You could volunteer for an organization working on the issue, make a donation to that group, post a supportive sign in your yard, or work to raise the issue with friends or on social media. Doing so can make a difference for those who are suffering and make us feel better too.

Ultimately, the goal is to find the balance between feeling informed and educated on the situation at hand while not becoming totally overwhelmed by it.  Stiving to switch our focus from the amount of news we consume each day to the ways in which we engage with news in relation to our everyday lives and the people who fill them can create a balance of well-being.

Katie Aiken is a Blueprint Spoke Clinician with United Counseling Service.

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