Is news anxiety affecting your mental health?
Given the volume of troubling headlines, many who keep up with current events often feel overwhelmed. In fact, a March 2022 survey by the American Psychological Association reveals that 73% of American adults report that the news represents a significant source of stress in their lives.
From war to crime to climate change, there always seems to be concerning news on our screens. While most people want to stay informed, it's not unusual to feel stress while reading the headlines or watching the news on TV or online. When these feelings are pervasive, ongoing, and not healthily managed, they may come to negatively impact a person’s daily functioning and well-being. They even have the potential to lead to more serious mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, substance use disorder, and trauma. Read on to learn more and to explore coping strategies and support options that may help.
The SAMHSA National Helpline for support with substance misuse is available 24/7 and can be reached by calling (800) 662-4357.
Why is news-related anxiety so pervasive?
A 2019 qualitative analysis by the RAND (Research And Development) Corporation outlining the relationship between how much news we're exposed to and how it's presented may shed some light on why it's become an increasing source of anxiety for the general public.
While the ubiquity of 24-hour cable news is one of the more obvious and significant vehicles for subjective reporting today, social media has become another major source. For example, a 2020 report by Time magazine reveals that one in 10 Americans checks the news hourly, with 20% reporting that much of their news exposure comes from social media.
The relationship many of us have today with online news has even given rise to terms like "headline stress disorder," "doom-scrolling," and "doom-surfing.” According to the RAND report cited above, these refer to the inclination to "continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing."
Potential mental health effects of news anxiety
Not everyone who keeps up with current events or sometimes feels stress as a result has an anxiety disorder. To understand how news-related anxiety can impact people in daily life, though, it may be helpful to recognize some key symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder as a benchmark. News-related anxiety is not currently considered to be a diagnosable mental health condition, but the effects of this mental health challenge could contribute to a person’s development of a diagnosable anxiety disorder.
If you experience the following mental health symptoms with significant frequency or severity or if they interfere with your daily life, it may be indicative of an anxiety disorder:
- Irritability: feeling easily agitated, restless, or on edge. Small things may trigger intense emotional responses when a person is feeling irritable.
- Worry: persistent and intrusive thoughts or concerns about various aspects of life, including work, relationships, health, or future events
- Fear and apprehension: an overwhelming sense of fear or impending doom, even when there is no apparent threat or danger
- Difficulty concentrating: trouble focusing on tasks, making decisions, or remembering things due to racing thoughts and preoccupation with worry
- Feelings of overwhelm: a sense of being mentally overloaded and/or unable to manage daily stressors or responsibilities
- Mood swings: frequent mood changes, such as feeling anxious one moment and then feeling down or irritable the next
- Avoidance behavior: avoiding situations or activities that may trigger anxiety or cause discomfort
Potential physical health effects of news anxiety
Anxiety can certainly affect people psychologically, but some studies also suggest a strong correlation between anxiety disorders and physical health conditions. The reason for this may lie in the functioning of our autonomic nervous system and how it responds to stress.
The autonomic nervous system regulates those activities of the body that we don't consciously control, such as heart rate and breathing, but it's also responsible for producing the fight-or-flight response when we feel threatened. For those with an anxiety disorder, this response can become overactive, with the body too frequently responding as if it’s threatened. This can result in physical symptoms such as:
- Sleep disturbances
- High blood pressure
- Heart palpitations
- Digestive issues
- Muscle tension
- Persistent fatigue
- Weight fluctuations
Tips for managing news-related anxiety
Staying informed is a priority for many, so simply not consuming news may not be an option. Even if a person made the choice to try and avoid the news, it may not be possible in practice since it often appears on social media feeds, on the radio, and on TVs in public places. That said, there are strategies that may help you consume news in a healthier way and better manage any resulting anxiety.
Limit news consumption
Constant exposure to news can amplify anxiety. Instead, you might set specific times each day to catch up on the latest headlines to avoid excessive exposure. You might also consider turning off news notifications on your devices. Taking regular breaks to disconnect from the stream of news to spend time with loved ones or engage in activities you enjoy is recommended as well.
Choose reliable sources
It may help to seek out the most trustworthy news sources you can find and avoid engaging with those that publish deliberately inflammatory, sensationalized, or opinion-based content. Focusing on those that seem to provide accurate, unbiased reporting and present information objectively without excessive speculation is usually best. Developing media literacy skills can help you learn how to distinguish between factual reporting and opinion-based or inaccurate stories and find a more balanced perspective.
Be selective about topics
It's often unnecessary to follow the news coverage for every single event or to delve into every detail. Focusing on and prioritizing the topics that directly impact your life or community or are of personal interest may spare you some of the negative news you don't need to see.
Prioritizing self-care activities can help you manage stress and anxiety. These can include getting enough sleep, eating nutrient-dense foods, exercising regularly, engaging socially, taking part in activities you enjoy, and practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga.
Connect with others
Individuals with anxiety may be hesitant to share their experiences or seek support, but discussing your concerns with friends, family, or a support group can be beneficial. Sharing your feelings may provide reassurance or a sense of solidarity, and engaging in meaningful conversations can give perspective, contextualize news events, and potentially reduce anxiety symptoms.
If news stories evoke a sense of helplessness, channeling your anxiety into positive action may provide a feeling of empowerment. For example, you might get involved in causes that align with your values or volunteer for organizations working toward positive change.
Building structure and predictability into your daily life may create a sense of stability and purpose that could help counterbalance the uncertainty of the news cycle. Sticking to healthy routines, setting goals, taking regular breaks, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance are a few examples of ways to do this.
Therapy for help managing news anxiety
If news-related anxiety persists and interferes with your daily life, you might consider seeking support from a mental health professional. A therapist could help you address anxiety symptoms and causes and provide guidance on developing healthy coping strategies.
If you’re interested in seeking the support of a therapist, you can choose between online or in-person sessions in most cases. Those that have a busy schedule and can’t regularly commute to appointments or who prefer to speak with a provider from the comfort of home may choose virtual options. With a platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed and experienced therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging. Since research suggests online therapy can typically provide similar benefits to in-person sessions, this format may be worth exploring if it's more comfortable or convenient for you.
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