If the News Leaves You Anxious and Exhausted, You Probably Have ‘Headline Stress Disorder’
Jun 3, 2020   •   Cristina Morales
8List.ph is published by ID8, Inc.
Jun 3, 2020   •   Cristina Morales
Another day, another onslaught of bad news. From deadly diseases threatening to wipe out humanity to politicians passing questionable bills to people just being dicks to each other, you gotta ask: will this toxic news cycle ever stop?
Honestly, probably not. There’s a reason why bad news gets more coverage: negativity bias. We’re more likely to click and share bad news, and because we pay more attention to the negative, that’s what news outlets will continue to give us. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Psychologists theorize that we’re hardwired to focus on the negative because his helps us identify potential threats and avoid danger.
However, when you’re steeped in nothing but the negative, things can get toxic quickly, affecting your mental wellbeing. Here’s what you can do to find balance and not give into despair.
Becoming aware of how bad news can affect us is the first step to finding the perfect balance between staying informed and maintaining our mental wellbeing.
During the 2016 US elections, the news cycle got so toxic that therapist Steven Stosny coined a term describing the public’s psychological response to bad news: headline stress disorder. “Many feel personally devalued, rejected, unseen, unheard, and unsafe. They report a sense of foreboding and mistrust about the future,” Stosny wrote.
Stosny observed that many of his clients would respond to the grueling news cycle with intense feelings of worry and helplessness. These negative emotions are common responses to bad news. There’s even a German word for it: Weltschmerz. Literally translated, it means “world pain”, but it describes feelings of world-weariness. American philosopher Frederick C. Beiser defines it as “a mood of weariness or sadness about life arising from the acute awareness of evil and suffering”. Sounds familiar?
Researchers have found that women and young people are most vulnerable to bad news.
Stosny observed that his female clients in particular were more affected by bad news. A 2012 study found that women are better than men at remembering bad news. Women’s physiological reactions to the stress caused by bad news were also more persistent.
A 2019 report from the American Psychological Association (APA) found that different age groups report different levels of stress in response to the news. Gen Z adults and millennials are most affected because they still want to stay informed in spite of how the news causes them stress.
“Around 3 in 5 Gen Z adults (61%) and millennials (60%) [say] they want to stay informed but that following the news causes them stress,” the report reads. In contrast, only half of Boomers feel the same way. And when looking at the entire adult population, only 36% say they want to stay informed in spite of how the news causes stress.
Now we’re not saying you should completely cut yourself off from the news and stay uninformed for the sake of your mental wellbeing (though in some cases, that might just be what’s needed to be done). When you’re experiencing anxiety from the negative news cycle, taking a step back to recharge could be the best thing to do.
Instead of immersing yourself in the news 24/7, you could set a limited time each day to catch up on the day’s headlines. Then, outside of those times, do other activities (such as reading, exercise, and meditation) to take your mind off the bad news for a while, just so you don’t get overwhelmed by what you may have seen or read.
But what if you have to stay updated because of your job? Not everyone is able to step away from the news. People who work in the media, for example, need to stay updated every day. If your job makes it difficult for you to disconnect from the news, make it a point to set boundaries.
When you’re not working, resist the urge to scroll through your social media feeds. Instead, engage with your family and friends. You could also tell them that you want to limit talking about the news for your mental health.
Being steeped in nothing but bad news cal leave you with a warped view of reality. But in truth, the world isn’t as bad as the news makes it look like — what makes a story newsworthy is specifically how exceptional it is. Thankfully, many news outlets do report good news. You may need to do a little digging to find theme, but they’re there.
We need positive stories to regain our hope and feel more motivation. Mr. Rogers said it best: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”
Though this advice was meant for kids, adults sometimes feel just as helpless and overwhelmed as children, especially when confronted by bad news. By looking for the helpers, you can regain your hope and even become motivated to be a helper yourself. Which brings us to our next point…
It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of so many bad news, but the truth is, we all have the power to make the world a little better. It may be in your own community, your family, or — this’ll sound cheesy — even with yourself.
Find ways to volunteer. Donate. Getting your hands dirty and actually doing things to make things better will help you feel more empowered. Research has even shown that volunteerism can strengthen your feeling of purpose, boost your self-esteem and sense of wellbeing, and strengthen bonds within your community — all while making the world a better place to live in.
It’s easy to lose sleep when you’re consumed by worry and anxiety. But you need rest, not just for your physical health, but also for your emotional wellbeing. Make it appoint to avoid social media at least an hour before bedtime and instead, do a relaxing activity that will prep you for bed, such as reading or meditation. It’s also a good idea to take it easy on the caffeine. Limit yourself to a single cup of coffee or tea in the morning. Any more and you could not just wreck your sleep cycle, but also make your nervous state even worse.
You’re not the only one who’s feeling the way you do. Talk to friends who understand what you’re going through to release stress and encourage one another. And you might also want to seek professional help (you don’t have to wait until your mental state is “bad enough”) in order to process what you’re going through.
This may seem trite, but it’s true: no matter how bleak things may seem, there are always things you can be grateful for. Take the time to actively look for things that you’re grateful for and focus on them, not on that one disturbing headline.
What do you do to curb news fatigue? Tell us all about it in the comments below.
Though a chronic dabbler in whatever tickles her fancy, Cristina claims she can count her passions on one hand: feminism, literature, the environment, embroidery, and the power of a solid pop song. She lives in Uniqlo lounge pants and refuses to leave the house without a winged eye.
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