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How Do Current Events Affect Mental Health?
Current events can shape us in many ways. Even if we don’t directly experience something, hearing about it, reading about it, or watching it can have lasting effects on the way we feel. Good news can make us feel good, and bad news can cause us worries, fear, and sorrow. Research has shown that news coverage can be more than just a set of facts. Feelings from the news can get into our subconscious and even our dreams. It can increase the risk of post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression. In fact, more than half of Americans say that the news causes them stress, anxiety, fatigue, or sleep loss.
Why Are We Drawn to Bad News?
From an evolutionary standpoint, we are wired to fight or flee to survive. We want to know what dangers are present so that we can face them or outrun them. This may explain the “negativity-bias”—the tendency to pay more attention to the worst things that are taking place. Humans may try to protect themselves by paying careful attention to threats. Hearing bad news may actually help us in some cases. For instance, if you hear about a bad weather event that’s on its way, you may have useful information to keep yourself safe inside or to evacuate. However, repeatedly hearing negative news can also take its toll on mental health in unproductive ways.
How We Get Our News Has Changed
Bad news has been around for ages, but how we hear about it has not. With smartphones and the internet, we can receive a constant stream of news. Along with the news, come comments, retweets, opinions, arguments, commentary, gossip, and more reactions, all of which can cause even more stress.
Managing Current Events to Protect Mental Health
Consciously managing your intake of news can help protect you from its negative effects on mental health. Try to make a point of not engaging in doomscrolling—constantly scrolling and reading bad news. Instead of receiving alerts all day, you could set aside a certain time of day to check the news and limit how much time you spend on it. Another recommendation is to read full articles, not just headlines or small bits, to get the full story (if you can tolerate it). This may help you feel informed and keep your mind from wandering to even worse case scenarios. Staying away from the news before bed may be a good idea if the news makes it difficult for you to sleep. (The news can stimulate a brain that’s trying to relax. Additionally, the blue light from screens can disrupt sleep.) Using the internet or your phone to promote positive feelings can be a good alternative to constant news alerts. For instance, you can try replacing time spent on current events with positive activities: connect with friends or loved ones, watch or read something entertaining, listen to music, or play a game. Relaxation strategies after news consumption can also help. Examples include deep breathing or consciously expressing gratitude for what is going right in your life or in the world.
Help is Available—You Can Feel Better
If you find yourself concerned about your mental health or that of a loved one, please reach out for help. Compassionate support from licensed mental health professionals is available through BetterHelp.