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Image / Editorial

Watching the news was hurting my mental health


by Edaein OConnell
19th Oct 2018

I look at my father and wonder. He reads the paper meticulously from front to back, listens to the radio for in-depth discussions and watches the news at least twice a day. The majority of the news he consumes is filled with woe, despair and a sense of Armageddon, but it never seems to affect him. I, on the other hand, possess a heart which constricts each time I read a new development or story about how the world we live in is imploding around us.

There is a certain sense of panic which exudes from the media we consume every day. Or at least I feel that there is. And lately, I have struggled considerably to view the news in a calm and collected manner. When the UN report on climate change was released recently, I dived into a pool of dark thoughts that the world was going to end. We spoke in the office of contingency plans. I thought about cutting meat out of my diet completely. And then I thought what is the point of it all? Every picture which accompanied a news piece was of an apocalyptic scenario. It was as if the ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ was playing before me on my newsfeed.

A world on fire

After Brexit and the election of Trump, there was a large political shift towards the unknown. I remember sitting in my kitchen, scrolling through my phone, my timeline demented by demons of the far right. But, I looked over at my father and he was the picture of calm. He made a little grumble about the British not knowing what they had got themselves into but otherwise remained undisturbed. I presumed the world would be on fire next time I looked outside my bedroom window. My father continued his mutterings.

“If you think that all we see is darkness and disaster; you are right. Because bad news sells.”

The way in which my father and I absorb the news is very different. At certain points throughout the day, he is concentrated on the news, whether that be on the radio, a news bulletin or when he reads the paper. Outside of those instances, he is detached. I also watch the news and read the paper but in between those moments, I am on social media. This is where I see an influx of additional information and commentary which reverberates my fears. This continuous relay is like Sky News on acid. My father wouldn’t dare think of setting up a social media account, which means he is protected from the 24-hour news service the internet provides.

The negativity bias

Over the last decade, our exposure to the news has altered considerably. It’s more vivid and visceral. Video clips and audio tapes present the uncomfortable reality of dangerous situations, placing us all in the front line. And if you think that all we see is darkness and disaster; you are right. Because bad news sells. The ‘negativity bias’ is the reasoning behind this supposed need for negativity. As humans, we are predisposed to respond more intensely to traumatic incidences. It’s physiological and the brain is built with a greater sensitivity for bad news because instinctively we want to protect ourselves. Knowing about something horrible provides us with the mechanism to avoid it in the future.

People panic on social channels whenever news that provides consternation appears. If you are of a more anxious disposition like me, avoid the comment section because hysteria is born there. Click-bait style headlines flood our screens making it impossible not to take a peak. And when we are already so very addicted to idle scrolling, the temptation is always a click away. Feelings of helplessness, despair, anger and sorrow accompany the half-hour updates.

Take a break

Not everyone responds in an identical way to the news. Many may view streams of info across a myriad of channels and never be affected. However, if you are like me, a break every now and then might be essential. I am making a conscious decision to continue to read papers and watch certain news bulletins to enable myself to gather a full and level-headed collection of opinions. Nevertheless, I will also deliberately try to avoid the online equivalent and only search for more if I am wholly interested in the topic. Being aware and clued up about what is going on in the world is vital for so many different reasons. But this constant feed of dreariness and gloom can make the world appear as a dark and vapid hole.

Be aware and educated, but also know the importance of an interlude. And for every awful bulletin you hear or heartbreaking article you read, go and find something joyful.

The news may be important, but your own sanity is too.

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