As the facts surrounding the global coronavirus pandemic continue to change at a moment’s notice, it’s important to stay informed on the latest news. Doing so can help us make informed decisions to better protect our health. However, as important as it is to stay up to date with the latest news, could we also be harming our mental health?
It’s understandable that we all want to spend our free time reading everything about the coronavirus as it helps to provide us with a sense of control, which is what we need during these uncertain times. However, it’s clear that absorbing too much bad news can be harmful to both our mental and physical health.
Why are we obsessed with bad news?
According to a survey from the American Psychological Association, most adults admitted to following the news regularly, but 56 % shared that doing so causes them stress. Now with that said, why do we still find ourselves glued to our screens, enamored with every sensational headline?
The fact is that being informed allows us to develop tools that we can use to better protect ourselves. Unfortunately, being informed can often come at a cost to our mental health. For instance, research published in the British Journal of Psychology found that after just 14 minutes of watching bad news, participants began to experience negative effects on their mental health. What’s more, heightened stress levels can weaken your immune system, which is the last thing you need – especially now.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should give up on staying informed and engaged. In fact, there are ways for you to stay informed without compromising your mental health.
9 ways to stay informed and protect your mental health
1. Set firm time limits
Similar to how you establish screen time limits for your kids, you should also set your own time limits when it comes to reading the news. Clicking on a link with a sensational headline can catapult you down a rabbit hole of never-ending information. However, by setting an alarm, you can pull yourself out before you get in too deep and compromise your mental health.
Try to figure out how much time you’ll need to read the news, and set an actual timer on your phone, be it for 5, 15, or 30 minutes or even an hour. You should then decide how many times a day you’ll do it for – say reading the news for 15 minutes three times per day. Once the time is up, close all your apps or tabs related to the news, and don’t open it up again until the next time, or day.
In addition to timing yourself when it comes to reading the news, you should also remember to allocate time to other activities that are good for your mental health. This includes exercising, reading, or any other healthy hobbies.
2. Monitor and adjust your alerts
Different news sources help to provide you with more perspective when it comes to current affairs. However, constant and multiple news alerts and notifications on your phone can get overwhelming, raising your stress levels.
As such, it would be advisable to limit your notifications and only allow news alerts from sites that you deem necessary. In fact, more information is not necessarily the best way to stay informed. Instead of allowing a barrage of notifications to fill up your phone, rather choose just two or three of the most credible sources and ignore the rest. Sites such as the CDC and the WHO organization are the best sources as they provide the latest, and the most credible information surrounding the coronavirus.
3. Wait a while when a news story breaks
When a news story breaks, we’re all glued to CNN or refreshing our Twitter timelines in an effort to get the latest updates. While normal, this action can affect your mental health. This is because when a news story breaks, it takes a while to get all the facts straight, and oftener than not, the information we see online is more so based on half-truths, speculations, and even conspiracy theories. As a result, these stories may serve to get our attention, but they also serve to increase anxiety and stress levels.
As it takes some time for journalists to collect all the facts, it would be advisable to wait for them to provide a more accurate and well-rounded report.
4. No bedtime news
The last thing you want is to be going to bed with “news” anxiety, as this will disrupt your sleep, and this is the last thing you need. In addition to weakening your immune system, lack of quality sleep can also affect your mental health by increasing the risk of depression.
It’s important to never check the news before bed. This is because you want enough time during the day to process the information. During the day, if you read something that raises your stress levels, you’ll be able to engage in stress-relieving techniques such as yoga or meditation. It’s also advisable to not sleep with your phone too close to you as you may be tempted to read the news as soon as you wake up.
5. Get some good news as well
With the constant influx of infection rates and death tolls, the news can get quite depressing. However, it’s important to remember that there are good things happening in the world. The bad news does not provide a full picture of the day’s events.
Reading good news can help to relieve some stress accumulated by bad news. So, try to read up on some human interest stories, or you can also follow sites like the Good News Network, Positive News, and Optimist Daily.
In addition to getting some good news, you should also try focusing on issues that you can help solve. As the coronavirus pandemic has affected various people in different ways, why don’t you go out of your way to research how you can help them? For ways to get involved or help make a change, check out Global Giving’s Coronavirus Relief Fund.
6. Start your day on a happy note
Starting your day by reading bad news can affect your mood. So, it’s important to start your day on a more positive note.
Try starting your day by listening to a relaxing podcast that boosts your mood, exercising, meditating, or by even enjoying a cup of coffee on your porch, enjoying the tranquil silence.
7. Talk to someone about how you’re feeling
If you’ve been consuming the news, and you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s important not to suppress your feelings. Doing so can make things worse.
Instead, try reaching out to a friend or family member to talk about your feelings. Additionally, your area may be on lockdown, but psychologists and counselors are still operating online. Therefore, don’t shy away from contacting your nearest mental health counseling group.
8. You don’t have to talk about COVID-19
Yes, you should reach out if you are feeling overwhelmed with crippling coronavirus anxiety. However, you can also make the conscious decision not to discuss the coronavirus if you believe that doing so affects your mental health.
When it comes to the coronavirus, everyone has an opinion, and they’re each looking to share it. As a result, we often feel forced into a conversation. However, you’re allowed to not engage if you feel that doing so can bring your mood down. Feel free to change the subject to something more positive.
If all else fails, feel free to simply step back and unplug.
You’re allowed to protect your mental health. If you feel that you need to disconnect from time to time, feel free to do so. Uninstall all your social media apps and disconnect from all news outlets for a period of time. Ask a close friend or family member to only alert you if something is going on that you need to know about.
The bottom line
Yes, it’s important to stay up to date with the news as this can help us to make more informed decisions. Unfortunately, too much news can affect our health, and that’s the last thing we need right now.
Thankfully, there are ways to protect our health and stay informed.
Johnston, W.M. and Davey, G.C.L. (1997), The psychological impact of negative TV news bulletins: The catastrophizing of personal worries. British Journal of Psychology, 88: 85-91. DOI:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1997.tb02622.x