Recent news events have made it difficult to stay informed without feeling anxious and panicked. So how do we consume the current news healthily? Is there a way of keeping up to date without it taking its toll on your mental health?
We spoke to three experts to find out how - here's what they had to suggest:
1. Understand that the media has its own agenda
"There's no denying that there's no shortage of bad news, and there's nothing intrinsically harmful or bad about informing yourself about what is happening, but it is also true that there is a growing trend for news sources to focus on the sensational and emotional aspects of these terrible events," said Michaela McCarthy, managing director of clinical institute The Awareness Centre, which offers counselling, psychotherapy, psychology, psychosexual and relationship therapy, psychiatry and coaching.
"'Emotionalising' or 'sensationalising' is the way in which a newsfeed emphasises the potential negative outcomes rather than showing how low the risk of further negative outcome actually is."
2. Recognise that the media can offer a distorted view of the world
"News reporters and journalists no longer just bring straightforward, impartial factual bulletins for five to 10 minutes every hour; the fact that they are now part of a 24-hour newsfeed means that they have to vie for your attention and turn the news into wall-to-wall 'entertainment,'" says McCarthy.
"News is not there just to inform any more, it has to grab your attention - and keep it. And the way some reporters and editors do this is by ramping up the emotional and sensational aspects of a news event or story. The danger in this is that it portrays the world as being full of drama posing a constant threat to you, and you could take this in as fact rather than making up your own mind as to the potential future danger to you."
3. Select your news sources carefully
"All news organisations in the early stages of a dramatic piece of news or event jump at any details and make a lot of them," said Professor Neil Greenberg of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and an expert in PTSD/psychological harm of traumatic events. "But there are certain news outlets – some of the big tabloids – who don't aim to put across a balanced view. The Daily Mail, for example, is not trying to be The Encyclopedia Britannica. Even respectable outlets such as The Times, The Guardian and the BBC sensationalise facts, but some are far worse than others. Think to yourself, 'What is this publication setting out to do?'" For up-to-date advice in English, see the NHS coronavirus webpage and gov.uk coronavirus webpages.
4. Know your limits and consider a news curfew
"If you start of feel overwhelmed it may be a good idea to reconsider how and when you get your daily news fix," says Nia Charpentier, media manager at Rethink Mental Illness. "Perhaps you find seeing images particularly distressing - therefore you could try listening to the news on the radio. Or, if consuming the news in the evening means that you find it hard to get it off your mind, making it hard for you to sleep, try and set a 'news curfew', where you don't consume the news after 5pm. There are now also apps you can try which control how much we are logged on to social media. For example they can be programmed so you only get updates for an hour a day or once in the morning and once in the evening.
5. Mute any triggering social media accounts
"Social media could help you stay in touch with people, but might also make you feel anxious including if people are sharing news stories or posting about their worries," reads a statement from Mind. "Consider taking a break or limiting how you use social media. You might decide to view particular groups or pages but not scroll through timelines or newsfeeds."
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6. Don't forget to balance bad news with activities that give you satisfaction
"While it is helpful to stay in the know about current affairs, it doesn't have to be all we consume," offers Charpentier. "As well as taking in the headlines, why not also take time to read a section of the newspaper that is of personal interest and enjoyment – whether that's a film or music review or the sport section. You could also download podcasts to break up listening to news reports or line up your favourite TV show for after the evening news."
7. If you suffer from mental health illnesses, limit your news exposure
"If you're not feeling well mentally, whether that's because of a diagnosed mental health condition or if you're going through a bad time generally, then stay away from news that distresses you," advises Greenberg. "There's research to show that for those who are already unwell mentally or in the early stages of a certain mental health condition, seeing images or hearing distressing information will not only make you feel worse but it could prolong the issue. If you want to stay informed, ask someone who has watched or consumed the news to tell you what's going on."
8. Appreciate that real-life stories are designed to evoke an emotional response
"The most toxic part of bad news is listening to personal stories," says Greenberg. "Listening to terrible, heart-wrenching first-hand accounts won't give you useful information. If you're healthy and want to watch them, then fine. It won't help you make fact-based risk assessments, so question their usefulness and the impact listening to them has on you."
9. Talk to your friends and family about the news
"Seek connection with others; if you can talk to friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances about your anxiety and learn about theirs you will be able strengthen your own personal view of facts and events and how they affect you and your future rather than accepting the sensationalised, fearful view wholesale," says McCarthy. "It is really understandable at times like this to feel your anxiety rising, but if you talk to someone about how you're feeling, it will help you to take a step back from your fear, put it in perspective and gain resolve."
10. Consider taking a news detox
"Switching off from or having breaks from how you consume the news can be helpful if you're finding it's having a negative impact on your mental wellbeing," says Charpentier. "But it doesn't have to be all or nothing. Some people find the 'not knowing' even worse, so finding a balance is key."
The information in this story is accurate as of the publication date. While we are attempting to keep our content as up-to-date as possible, the situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic continues to develop rapidly, so it's possible that some information and recommendations may have changed since publishing. For any concerns and latest advice, visit the World Health Organisation. If you're in the UK, the National Health Service can also provide useful information and support, while US users can contact the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
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