Doing your best to stay up with current events can often feel like drowning in a torrent of never ending bad news. With information coming at you in every direction, it’s easy to get burned out. Compassion and solidarity are important, but being an informed citizen doesn’t mean you always have to go down with the ship.
How Negative News Affects You
The 24/7 news cycle feels like an all-you-can-eat bummer buffet because of our inherent “negativity bias.” Things of a more negative nature have a greater impact on your psychological state than positive or neutral things do. Essentially, you’re hardwired to notice bad stuff more because your brain is trying to keep you out of harm’s way. You perceive bad news as threatening, so it’s only natural that it sticks with you longer than good or neutral news would. The world isn’t falling apart, it just feels like it is sometimes.
Why resist the urge to look? Negative thinking, after all, isn’t inherently bad, right? Well, constant exposure to negative media can increase your stress leveland have some serious effects on your mental health in both the short and long term. Dr. Graham Davey, a psychologist who specializes in the effects of media violence, explains to the Huffington Post:
Negative news can significantly change an individual’s mood—especially if there is a tendency in the news broadcasts to emphasize suffering and also the emotional components of the story. In particular… negative news can affect your own personal worries. Viewing negative news means that you’re likely to see your own personal worries as more threatening and severe, and when you do start worrying about them, you’re more likely to find your worry difficult to control and more distressing than it would normally be.
Even worse, you may begin to drain yourself of compassion completely. “Compassion fatigue” is a gradual lessening of compassion caused by secondary traumatic stress. Essentially, you’re not experiencing the trauma firsthand, but through witness testimony and disturbing imagery the horror becomes real in your mind. The Internet and 24/7 media outlets have made it easier than ever for you to see constant tragedy, and over time you can start to care less and less about what happens to those around you in addition to the people the tragedy is actually happening to. Even in your personal life, the fatigue can cross over and make your compassion can run dry over time. Without even knowing it, your gloom can turn you into a really lousy friend, family member, or significant other because you no longer offer a shoulder to cry on.
Focus on What You Can Control
To shape a more positive perspective on the news, Mary McNaughton-Cassill, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Texas at San Antonio and a leading researcher on the connection between media consumption and stress, suggests you need to start by focusing on what you can control:
What I tell people is that you really have to get conscious. You can’t change the externals. You have to get some control mentally… get a handle on why you get anxious and worried about things that probably aren’t going to happen, or knowing what your triggers are. Consciously focus yourself on the evidence around you that the news is picking out the extremes and the bad things.
When you see a horrible tragedy reported, remind yourself that there are still good things happening in the world at the exact same moment. It’s just not necessarily making the front page. It’s not that you shouldn’t care about what’s happening in the world, or that you should convince yourself the bad things happening aren’t bad. It’s just important to keep a level head and recognize that you’re only being shown half the story.
If you can figure out what your triggers are, it will help you determine your own limits of certain types of news exposure. Jesse Singal, senior editor of NYMag.com, suggests you think about the types of news stories that bother you the most and how it contributes to your stress level. Bad news rarely makes anyone feel good (and it shouldn’t), but different types of stories have the potential to negatively affect some of us more than others. When you know what bothers you the most, you can do your best to reduce your exposure to the unnecessary details of it.
Mix In Some Positive News Sources
If avoiding all news all the time is a little unrealistic for your lifestyle, you can balance the scales by mixing in some positive sources with your normal misery magnets. Sometimes just seeing that there are good things being reported can be enough to keep a positive perspective. Here are some sources worth adding to your feeds or adding to your reading rotation:
- The Huffington Post: What’s Working and Good News
- CNN: Impact Your World
- Good News Network
- Good World News
If you read news in the morning, positive and solution-focused stories are a great way to start your morning on the right foot. If you want to read your normal sources in the morning as well, consider sandwiching them in between positive sources, or at least ending with something upbeat so the negative stuff doesn’t cling to you all day long.
Focus on What You Can Actively Do
Bad news doesn’t have to only be a source of negativity in your life, it can also be a call to action. Instead of getting gloomy every time something terrible happens, look for things you can do to get involved and help prevent the very news that distresses you.
Write letters to congressmen and women about how they should handle things, donate to relief funds that help tragedy victims recover, and find some time in you schedule to volunteer. Volunteering is a great way to take an active role in making the world a better a place, and all it costs you is your time. You’ll feel better about the world, and yourself, in no time at all. You’ll know that good things are still happening in the world because you’re one of the countless people out there doing it. Making a tangible difference means the news won’t hit you as hard as it used to, but when it gets to be too much, you still have the rest of these tips to fall back on as well.