Digital wellness / July 17, 2023

Bad news making you feel blah?

June Kinloch

June Kinloch

Project Manager II, TELUS Wise

Woman reading the news on smartphone

For any significant news event, there are hundreds of millions of news stories to read and marathon news coverage to watch. In Canada right now, we are collectively consumed by the devastation of forest fires burning nationwide. Searching “Canada forest fires” delivers 373,000,000 results including news stories, opinion pieces and videos. Top headlines include: “Canada could keep burning for months” (The Atlantic), “Canada wildfire season is now the worst on record” (BBC), “Canada's wildfires: Where they are, how much has burned and how it's changing air quality” (CBC).

The news and mental health

While it's critical to stay informed, the 24-hour news cycle and our social media feeds create a very real risk of bad news fatigue. With so much access to information (and so much of it sensationalized), the “doom scrolling” phenomenon (seeking out more and more negative news) is real and is affecting our mental health.

While the news often reports negative stories, this trend intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amidst the uncertainty, people were looking for answers. With so much time at home in front of our devices coupled with our own negativity bias (our tendency to concentrate on the negative rather than the positive), negative content was almost impossible to escape.

A recent study by Texas Tech University surveyed people who watch and consume a lot of news. Approximately 74% of respondents indicated experiencing stress or anxiety “quite a bit” or “very much.” When asked about any associated physical impact (61% of respondents expressed feeling physically ill “quite a bit” or “very much”), common reported symptoms included fatigue, physical pain, poor concentration and stomach problems.

Healthy news consumption

How can you stay informed without falling into the trap of over consumption and experiencing bad news fatigue?

Set limits: Take 15 minutes in the morning while having your coffee to read the headlines and dig into three stories of interest. Gauge how you feel. If your original limit is too much, revise it. Set rules for yourself around daily screen use (for example, no screens or news consumption during meals or an hour before bed). Being intentional about how you consume the news can help you avoid doom scrolling and getting caught up in negativity.

Disconnect if you need to: If you’re watching, listening or scrolling and start to feel overwhelmed, disconnect. It’s ok to take a break and catch up when you feel more neutral or regulated. You can also set limits for News Apps (or social media apps) to avoid the doom scrolling trap.

Balance the good with the bad: It’s important to stay informed, but it’s also important for your mental health to stay uplifted. Follow outlets like The Good News Movement or the Solutions Journalism Network for positive and solutions-focused news stories. Watching heartwarming videos or reading words of inspiration can also help to balance the negativity inherent in everyday news feeds.

Focus on what makes you feel good: If the news feels like too much, step away from the screen and immerse yourself in something that makes you feel good. Time spent in nature, pursuing a passion, connecting with people you love or doing activities that light you up can be a great reprieve from negativity in the news.

Talk openly with the kids in your life: It’s important to know how kids are internalizing the news and how it’s making them feel. Have ongoing, open discussions and consult expert resources if you need to. MediaSmarts offers great tips on talking to kids about the news, including kid-friendly reporting and positive stories to share. Find what you’re passionate about and come up with ideas on how you can make a difference together.

Take action: If negative news makes you feel helpless, do something to help. Research organizations where you could donate time or money or lend support. Acts of service go a long way in helping you channel your energy positively and make positive contributions. TELUS Days of Giving offers some great ideas for taking action and giving back.

Unfortunately, negative news sells. So the barrage is most likely here to stay. But you can take control of the narrative for yourself, engaging with negative news in ways that feel ok for you. By setting limits, gauging how you and your family feel consuming the news and seeking out alternative news styles, you can stay informed while protecting your mental health.

To learn more about building and maintaining a healthy relationship with technology and tips for staying well in our connected world, take this TELUS Wise happiness quiz.

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