The effects of news
Changing Our Media Diet Can Significantly Affect our Mental Health
Wars. Murders. Terrorist attacks. Do you believe that the world is a violent, sinister place, despite violence being in a long-term decline since World War II?
Trust me; you are not alone.
Thousands of years ago, our ancestors were exposed to immediate threats, such as predators, that we no longer need to worry about. Our overly-anxious primates had a significant advantage, as more attentiveness to these threats played a role in increased survival.
As a result, we are more affected by adverse events than positive events – something scientists call “negativity bias.” We still vividly remember the painful rejections we received in elementary school but have a harder time remembering the great birthday parties we attended.
Journalists know how to use this bias to their benefit. Negative, shocking news leads to more engagement and clicks. Scandalous headlines sell. Unfortunately, clickbait exists for a reason.
Research has shown that negative news can adversely affect our mental health – increased stress, depression, and anxiety are among the potential consequences of exposure.
So, how do we change our perception of the world? How do we get a more accurate worldview? And most importantly, how do we ensure that news doesn’t hurt our mental well-being?
Bring in: solutions journalism. Many people comprehend the world’s problems but know little about the solutions. We realize that malaria is a big problem. But are we aware of the long-awaited malaria vaccine that the World Health Organization has recently approved?
Solutions journalism helps us become aware of the responses and solutions to social issues, besides the problems themselves.
From videos on insects fixing the world to unsung victories in the fight against disease, the team at BBC’s “People Fixing the World” ensures that we stay up to date with the latest positive developments.
If you prefer listening to stories, I highly recommend “Finding Fixes.” The podcast primarily focuses on health-related solutions journalism stories, such as preventing youth addiction or the role of medicinal marijuana in combatting chronic pain.
Abstinence from the news
Another solution is to quit consuming news altogether. If we see a plane crash, we will change our frame of mind, regardless of its real likelihood. Instead of pointing us toward the fact that we would have to fly a plane every day for 55000 years before being involved in a fatal crash, the news makes us more afraid and stressed.
Like social media, news demands our attention. So much headspace is required for news. And eventually, we may become news junkies. We grow to become addicted to the quick and dirty news drug and scroll through the same stories repeatedly. Perhaps, we can only solve our news dependency by cutting off the effects of news altogether. After all, we never know what we expose ourselves to when we open a news website on a given day.
Other useful practices
As the effects of news play into our negativity bias, we can incorporate repetitive practices to direct more of our consciousness toward positive events and emotions. Solutions journalism helps. But we can explore many other methods that counterbalance sensations arising from negative news.
Practicing mindfulness can increase awareness of our thought processes and sensations toward (negative) news. Mindful breathing has been associated with increased positive judgments and higher levels of optimism.
Keeping a gratefulness journal also correlates with a more positive outlook on life. Writing down three things you’re grateful for each morning can feel relatively effortless while providing significant changes in everyday perceptions.
Cognitive restructuring practices help us become aware of our everyday beliefs. When we think negatively about news and everyday situations, we can use these practices to reframe the situation.
Also, when something positive happens to us, we stop and take time to purposely enjoy the positive experience. This helps as our internal store of positive mental images counterbalances adverse events.
The point is that you get to control the news. Don’t let it control you.