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What I Learned When I Stopped Watching the News

Is the news bad for our health? Here's what I think.

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by Bexx Henderson in Mental Health
IS THE NEWS BAD FOR OUR HEALTH?

Towards the end of last year, I decided to do a little experiment. Inspired by this post, written by Karen Strunks, I decided to find out what would happen if I stopped watching the news. I knew watching was affecting my mental health, so I decided to stop listening to, reading and watching ALL news for 28 days.

I have an anxiety disorder that emerges from time to time, and was on the waiting list to see a counsellor. The news can be a source of anxiety, even for non-anxious people, so I thought I would cut it out all together and see what happened.

Here’s what I learned…

The News is Everywhere

This is the first thing I discovered: avoiding the news is not easy! It’s everywhere. I didn’t expect this – I thought I’d find it easy. I only watch TV for an hour or so each day, if that, and I mostly watch pre-recorded stuff or Netflix.

But it wasn’t news on the TV I found impossible to avoid. It was everything else. Facebook. The radio. Conversations over dinner. The newspaper sitting on the sofa at my in-laws.

I found, instead of easing my anxiety symptoms, trying to avoid the news just made them worse. But, instead of feeling anxious as a result of what I was reading, I felt anxious just from the thought of being exposed to the news.

That can’t be healthy, can it?

What I realised is, just like with food, you can’t cut out an aspect of normal life and expect it to do you any good. Complete avoidance, especially when driven by fear or anxiety, isn’t healthy.

Finding a Healthier Approach

Needless to say, I didn’t make it through the full 28 days. So I set about finding another approach – one that makes me feel good.

Here are a few strategies that I found worked for me:

1. Focus on the Good

There’s a lot of bad shit going on in the world. If you watch the news – or read it online – that’s pretty much all you’ll be exposed to.

I do think it’s important to be aware of what’s going on. In the words of Martin Luther King, “nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance”. That said, our own mental wellbeing is important too – and I think we need to find some kind of balance.

There are plenty of awesome people out there, doing incredible things.

People who want the best for the world.

People who care.

People like you and me.

Why don’t they get more air time? Because good news doesn’t sell. Negativity bias means we’re more interested in reading, seeing or hearing bad news.

If you wanna hear about the warm and fuzzy stuff, you need to find it yourself. Cultivate your own news. Read the stories that matter to you – good and bad – and find a balance that positively influences your mental health.

I don’t avoid the news now, but I do decide what I pay attention to. As well as reading about the current issues important to me, I search out stories with a positive, inspiring or uplifting message.

Here are a few I’ve found this month:

2. Accept and Take Action

There’s a lot to be said about acceptance. When I stopped watching the news, I was trying to squash my negative feelings about certain things happening in the world.

The problem here is that all feelings – even negative ones – are valid. In fact, negative feelings drive us to make changes and act – so we may be doing ourselves (and the world) a disservice by attempting to ignore them.

If you feel down about something you see on the news, accept your feelings and take action. Donate, volunteer, speak out or start a campaign. Do what you can, no matter how small you think it is.

A whole is the sum of its parts. Alone, we can’t fix all the world’s problems. But, if we change a small part of it – even in the tiniest way – we’re contributing to something much bigger.

It doesn’t need to be directly related to what you’ve seen on the news. The world needs more kindness – and that’s something we are all capable of.

3. Rationalise – What Do You Know For Sure?

One of my favourite books is Oprah Winfrey’s ‘What I Know For Sure’. The book is a collection of the life lessons Oprah shared in her monthly column – each one focusing on a truth, something she knows for sure.

Here’s the thing: the news isn’t always an accurate portrayal of what’s happening in the world. I’m not about to go all conspiracy theory on you, but a lot of what we see in the news is opinion, not fact. Sometimes you might go as far as calling it propaganda, written to incite fear or prejudice.

Have you ever experienced any kind of health anxiety? If you have, it’s a good idea to avoid the Daily Mail! According to them, here are a few things that cause cancer:

Alright, so these are pretty ridiculous examples, but the same rules apply. Instead of getting sucked into the journalism, rationalise the story and work out what’s likely to be true. Separate reality from speculation, and think about the bigger picture.

4. Practice Gratitude

A daily gratitude practice is simple, but it’s something I’ve found so useful to combat any negative feelings elicited by the news.

When you’re in a funk about the state of the world, and none of my other suggestions are helping, write down three things you’re grateful for in that moment.

The goal here isn’t to squash those negative feelings (as we’ve already discussed), but to act as a reminder that – no matter how bad things get – there’s usually something to be grateful for.

SELF-CARE ISN'T SELFISH, MAMA.

Are you an exhausted mum, trying your best to take care of yourself and your tiny human(s)? This free workbook will help you find time for your own wellbeing.

GET THE WORKBOOK