When we experience a threat, Miller says our brain activates the fight or flight response, and the systems in our body react accordingly.
Consuming the news can activate the sympathetic nervous system, which causes your body to release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Then, when a crisis is happening, and we are experiencing this stress response more frequently, Miller says physical symptoms may arise. Some of the most common symptoms are fatigue, anxiety, depression, and trouble sleeping.
This emotional toll and negative effect on the psyche was demonstrated in a study that found people who watched negative material, as compared to those who watched positive or neutral material, showed an increase in both anxious and sad moods only after 14-minutes of viewing television news bulletins and programs.
In addition to an increase in anxious and sad moods, the researchers also found the results to be consistent with the theories of worry that implicate negative mood as a causal factor in facilitating worrisome thoug
Like a lot of things, the key to staying healthy is moderation. "Staying informed is not just responsible, but critical to our safety right now, explains Kellie Casey Cook, MS, licensed professional counselor.
To strike the balance of moderation while staying informed, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends seeking news about COVID-19 mainly so that you can take practical steps to prepare your plans and protect yourself and your loved ones. Once you have that information, it’s time to turn the news off.
To help alleviate the mental and emotional toll this is all taking, the CDC recommends taking breaks from watching, listening, or reading news stories, especially since hearing about a pandemic repeatedly is upsetting.
“Your brain will eventually get used to this new routine and it will start to be able to let worries go more easily.”
— Annie Miller, MSW, LCSW-C, LICSW
Recite a Helpful Mantra
According to Jones, healthy news consumption isn’t about denying reality, but it is about creating boundaries. His recommendation for creating boundaries around negative and disastrous news? Reciting a helpful mantra like this one: “Toxic disaster reporting has no power over me. I acknowledge what’s happening in the world, but I will not let it define my life. I’m going to persevere and do my part.”
Limit Your Exposure to Other Stressors
Another point to consider, says Cook, is to give yourself permission to limit your exposure to certain people right now. “If you have a family member who is constantly posting links to questionable articles from unknown sources, go ahead and unfollow them for now. If a friend or coworker insists on having current events related conversations that don’t feel productive and only serve to increase your anxiety, consider putting some boundaries in place with them,” she says. Something along the lines of, “Hey, I’m really starting to feel overwhelmed by this topic, so I’d prefer if we’d change the subject,” can be effective with some people.
Do Something Healthy After Watching the News
For most of us, consuming some form of news each day is essential. To help combat feelings of fear, anxiety, and worry that often accompany negative news, Edelstein suggests choosing to do something positive or healthy immediately after, like taking a walk, calling a friend, or working on a hobby. “Because things are so uncertain, we need healthy distractions right now to stay grounded and resilient,” she says.