We live in a world saturated by news and entertainment media. While traditional media, such as television, radio, newspapers, and magazines, continue to be relevant, Americans’ use of digital media as viewed through a cellphone, tablet or computer has soared. In a 2020 Pew Research Center survey, 86% of adults surveyed said they consume the news at least sometimes through their devices.
With digital news media now attainable through devices we can carry in our pocket or wear on our wrists, and “breaking news” headlines emerging every hour from around the globe, people are becoming more susceptible to the negative impacts of their media consumption. In this article, we will use the term “media overconsumption” to refer to when your media exposure begins to affect your life negatively, whether by triggering distressing emotions or interfering in your relationships and life offscreen.
Read on for how our exposure to media can affect our mental health and how we can take proactive steps to care for ourselves.
What Happens To Us When We Overconsume
In many cases, keeping up on the news can be a positive or necessary habit, especially for keeping us informed about the world beyond our immediate awareness. Like the content of many news articles, however, their impact on us isn’t necessarily neutral. It matters what we consistently ingest, whether it’s food, music, or media. What we expose ourselves to impacts our bodies, minds, and mood, particularly when this exposure happens on an ongoing basis.
Media overconsumption can impact our mental health in many ways:
- Reading news articles about distressing events can act as a trigger for negative emotions, such as anger, resentment, or anxiety. The terms “doomscrolling” and “headline anxiety” have emerged to describe the emotional impact of simply perusing your newsfeed. For example, many people may experience increased climate change anxiety as they read consistent reports of environmental crises.
- Time spent consuming media can diminish our time spent doing other activities that support our well-being, such as socializing, exercising, or doing creative hobbies.
- News and entertainment media can influence how we view the world and color our perceptions of certain issues. Half of U.S. adults now view the news at least sometimes via social media platforms, which may not always come from reputable sources nor present a variety of viewpoints. Articles and videos that appear in your feed, for example, are likely there due to an algorithm that presents you with content tailored to your preferences.
- The strong emotions or opinions triggered by media consumption can strain certain personal relationships, particularly between people with different political views.
- Consistently consuming news about negative or distressing events can lead to a “feeling of learned helplessness,” according to one expert, which stems from believing that there is nothing we can personally do to better the situations we read about. Rather than feeling empowered by the knowledge and awareness we can gain from following current events, we may feel overwhelmed by the scale of a crisis or the uncertainty of its outcome.
How To Find A Healthy Balance
Digital media can play a positive role in our lives when consumed in moderation. What counts as “moderate” or “healthy” for one person may be different for another. What matters is to become aware of your media consumption habits so that you can make conscious decisions. You may ask yourself several questions to gain greater awareness of your habits, such as:
- How much time do you spend per week on a certain app or platform?
- If you are getting news from these digital platforms, do you know where their information is being sourced?
- How do you feel after spending time reading, watching, or listening to the news?
If your answer to the last question was along the lines of “anxious,” “sad,” “overwhelmed,” “angry,” or “helpless,” you are not alone. Psychologists are becoming increasingly concerned with how many of their clients are reporting these emotions regarding their media use, particularly during and after the Covid-19 pandemic. Here are just a few strategies backed by psychologists and research for how to cope with these emotions.
Create A Media Diet
Consider setting aside specific times of day or certain days of the week to read the news. This can help realign our attention towards our own lives, rather than constantly (and distractedly) following what is happening in the world and online. Just like nutritious eating habits that incorporate a variety of foods, consider what variety of news your mind is consuming. If it is all “bad” news, try to make a conscious effort to seek news stories that feature a different narrative, such as a focus on people working on solutions or activism.
Get Engaged Off-Screen
It is easy to feel overwhelmed or helpless as we watch news reports of an unfolding crisis. One expert counsels people to find proactive ways to engage in the issues that cause their sense of distress. You may decide to get involved in local environmental or racial justice initiatives, for example. If you still desire to educate yourself on certain issues, consider other ways to deepen your knowledge rather than through digital news media. You might consider taking a class, volunteering for a non-profit, or reading a book on the subject.
Exercise can provide the opportunity to disconnect from our devices. In 2020, when anxiety from pandemic-related news was particularly high, researchers at a German university ran an experiment to gauge how exercise could affect the mental health of social media users. Study participants were asked to swap 30 minutes of their daily social media use for 30 minutes of exercise. Although the intervention lasted only two weeks, participants reported higher levels of “physical activity, life satisfaction, and subjective happiness” even six months after the intervention ended. The researchers concluded that the “conscious combination” of less social media use plus more exercise led to “more psychological resilience” of the pandemic’s mental health impacts.
Regaining Balance And Perspective Through Therapy
Regardless of your consumption habits, news consumption can be stressful, distracting, or overwhelming. Working with a therapist may be helpful for shifting your attention towards your own life and its potential for affecting change. A licensed therapist can help you create positive habits related to your media consumption, as well as suggest coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety.
Online therapy has become increasingly popular amongst both therapists and people seeking therapy. One survey of psychologists found that 96% endorsed telehealth as therapeutically effective and 97% endorsed its continuation post-pandemic.
For people seeking therapy, online therapy can provide multiple benefits. People who live in areas of the country where there is limited availability of mental health services can visit an online therapist as long as they have a stable internet connection and device. Some online therapy platforms, such as BetterHelp, offer video and phone calls as options for therapy sessions. You can also communicate with your therapist via an in-app chat, which can be helpful for checking in on how you’re doing between sessions.
Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp therapists from people experiencing similar issues.
“I can hardly believe how quickly Mary was able to connect with me and ultimately turn me around. My outlook went from bleak to hopeful and now to confident. Mary offers timely wisdom, kindness, safety, and true things she generously and carefully infuses into me somehow. There is still a pandemic, still all kinds of scary news, but I feel much better about everything. I feel better. Thank you, Mary.”
“I cannot express how immensely beneficial each and every session with Tony has been to the rest of my week. We have spoken on a myriad of concerns and Tony has had insight on everything, from mindfulness to adapting during our current pandemic to leadership to finding shows and news that do not increase my anxiety, even rearing my two-year-old!! What I enjoy most is discussing logical reasoning and the psychology about everything. My mornings are atrocious! I awake with such a foreboding sense of doom and gloom. I am astounded that I have begun to feel better. Thank you so very much Tony!!! I would highly recommend him for not only relationships and trauma but virtually anything you encounter in your life.”
Frequently Asked Questions
What Does Consuming So Much Media Do To Us?
According to USC News, the heavy consumption of media impacts people’s time in their homes and leads to an abundance of smartphone usage. This directly correlates with the fact that just about every media outlet has an app that can readily view content.
Consuming so much media ultimately impacts the way people live, interact with others, spend their time, and view the world. This is why the overconsumption of media can be so dangerous.
How Do I Stop Consuming So Much Media?
Cornell Tech points out the extent to which fan engagement and content tailored towards certain audiences plays a role in media consumption. The overlapping theme in this form of consumption, however, is the use of technology.
Technology is a driving factor in media consumption. Therefore, it stands to reason that cutting back on technology is a great way to stop consuming so much media. This doesn’t mean that people should throw all their technological devices in the trash. However, it does mean that there’s a healthy balance that can be had.
Media should not and does not have to control the lives that we live.
How Is Media Consumed Today?
According to Statista, media is primarily consumed today via radio, TV, and social media. There are other forms of consumption; however, these are the leading three. Many people also stream media online, another service that’s risen in popularity over several years.
Media is easily consumed today because there’s so much open reach to it. It’s much more difficult to avoid or limit media consumption than it is to even accidentally come across media. This, too, plays a role in why the overconsumption of media is a very real issue that so many people are facing today.
Is Media Consumption Good Or Bad?
BBC News notes that media consumption can be bad when it absorbs too much time. To some extent, the consumption of media is necessary. People often feel a need to be aware of what’s happening in the world and not live in a bubble. However, when consumption becomes overconsumption, that’s when issues and problems can arise. Media consumption is good when done in balance and moderation.
How Much Media Do We Consume Daily?
Figures from Statista says that people, on average, spend 7.5 hours of their time consuming media on a daily basis. This speaks volumes and truly shows the extent to which media consumption has become so prevalent in society. There’s no denying that ease of reach plays a role in the hours per day that people spend consuming media in one form or another.
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