Do you know a news junkie?
Someone who is obsessed with keeping up with the latest headlines and the smallest details of every major story? Maybe the news junkie is you.
Despite the flippant name (after all, the word “junkie” is an insensitive way to refer to someone who suffers from a substance use disorder), you might wonder why caring about news is a bad thing. It’s good to know what’s going on in the world, right? And it’s important to make sure the information you hear is factual, right?
So, watching multiple news channels, reading the websites of multiple news publications (or going old school and reading multiple newspapers), and following journalists you respect on Twitter are all, arguably, perfectly reasonable things to do. Right?
It’s hard to argue against being well informed. Still, there is some evidence to suggest that when it comes to news, as with so much else, moderation is important. Why is it important?
To protect your mental health.
The Proof Is in the Pandemic
Many things about the COVID-19 public health emergency have presented challenges to our mental health. Loneliness and isolation, lost jobs and lost incomes, and, of course, the prospect of serious or deadly illness that might harm our loved ones or ourselves.
But a study conducted at the University of California Irvine suggests that an additional stressor has been contributing to declines in mental health across the country. That stressor is ongoing consumption of news about the pandemic.
While keeping up with the latest news about the pandemic is essential to bringing the health crisis to an eventual end, the study shows that continual focus on pandemic news—on television, in newspapers, on our phones, and in our social media—leads to increased feelings of depression and anxiety.
So how can you have your cake and eat it, too? How can you stay informed without becoming increasingly anxious or depressed?
Making the Most of Media Moderation
There are a variety of ways to instill a practice of moderation into your media consumption. Here are some questions you could ask yourself:
- Could you commit to avoiding news coverage for the first 30 minutes or hour after you wake up? (This might mean not reaching for your phone the instant you open your eyes.)
- Could you make a similar commitment before bed to avoid getting worked up over the news when you are trying to get much needed rest?
- Could you schedule your interactions with the news? Maybe a half an hour of browsing news sites over your lunch hour instead of returning to those sites over and over throughout the day? Maybe identify a national newscast and a local newscast you will watch each day and avoiding additional broadcasts?
- Could you schedule a news hiatus each week? Maybe you commit to letting the world take care of itself on Saturdays or Sundays—or both.
- Could you turn off the media notifications on your phone so that they are not constantly clamoring for your attention?
- Could you lessen the amount of time you spend scrolling for news on social media and/or reading or watching opinion-based content related to the news?
You will no doubt have noticed that we have not suggested an extended or permanent period without accessing the news. Instead, these questions are intended to help you find easy but significant ways to reduce your overall consumption of media content while still getting the information that is—rightly—important to you.
The Potential Benefit of a (Different) Hobby
You might think of your intense concentration on the news as a kind of hobby. Some people like westerns or poetry or mysteries or novels about vampires. You like to read the news. But if you are finding yourself increasingly depressed or anxious or angry about what you’re reading, it might be time to get a new hobby.
What if, for example, you replaced listening to news to listening to music? Replacing 30 minutes of news with 30 minutes of jazz may be a great solution for you.
Of course, that’s just one example. Any hobby that you enjoy and that occupies your mind can be effective for this purpose. What matters is that this new activity replaces at least some of your regular news consumption.
Some Good News: We Can Help You Protect Your Mental Health
At Peak View Behavioral Health, we are committed to helping people improve and maintain their mental health. Our team can address any mental health disorder you might be struggling with, whether it is one of the many kinds of depression, an anxiety or panic disorder, an issue with its roots in past trauma, or another problem that makes it difficult for you to function effectively and reach your goals.
We can also help you overcome a substance use disorder. Often, a person turns to drugs or alcohol to help them manage negative emotions. This can quickly develop into a significant problem.
Here’s the headline: We are ready and able to help.