News Consumption – How much is good for us?

In this new age of ubiquitous news availability, what are we to do when all the news seems like it’s bad? Our self-preservation instinct suggests that we cut ourselves off from it completely, but to be a caring and engaged member of society suggests that we “stay informed”.  A recent survey by the American Psychological Association showed that one in 10 Americans check the news every hour, and 20% check it constantly by monitoring their social media feeds and getting the alerts that grab you whether you want it or not.  Half of Americans say the news causes them stress/anxiety, sleep loss and sadness, and other research shows that negative TV news exacerbates the viewer’s own personal worries.

So, if it makes us feel so bad, why do we keep doing it?  One explanation is called “negativity bias”, where the brain is wired to pay attention to information that scares or unsettles us.  Our survival depends on finding rewards and avoiding harm, but avoiding harm takes priority.  Much of what passes for news analysis now is what some experts call “lunchroom gossip elevated to a sophisticated level”, and it is this form of “news” that gets people worked up and worried more than anything else.

So, if you find that the news is messing with your well-being or the quality of your relationships, take a breather and do some mood uplifting activity is like listening to music, exercising, or watching something that makes you laugh.  Or, you can pare down the amount of news you take in.  Experts recommend one block of time daily but never right before bed. It is okay to go back to “reading the paper” every morning for a few minutes, then move on with your day.  Remember that as much as we are all trying to improve the health of our society, we need to ensure we take care of our own physical and mental health too.

By Dr. Houser, Psychiatrist, MD, at PRO Medical Counseling Center

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