The further we go through 2020, the crazier the year seems to get! The coronavirus pandemic is ramping up (again) and there are worries about more potential layoffs and job losses amid the new surge. Top these concerns off with the back-and-forth sniping over the presidential election’s disputed results and many people have begun asking is it okay to take a break from the news?
You bet it is! In fact, we highly recommend it, particularly to those who have already been experiencing heightened stress and anxiety due to the pandemic.
Does Watching The News Cause Anxiety?
In a word, yes. While you may feel that tuning in to the latest headlines keeps you informed, in reality, doing so causes information overload. There’s even a term for it – headline stress disorder. Although not an actual medical term, the phrase was coined by psychologist Dr Steven Stosny to define the high emotional responses one has after viewing endless media reports.
You see, by checking in and reading (or watching) the gloom and doom headlines, we begin to feel as if the world is on a roller coaster we can’t escape from. One minute we hear there may be a vaccine forthcoming, the next we hear that it may not be as effective as we’d hoped. Or we hear that the election has been called by the media, then we hear that the results are suspect and a recount is happening.
This rise of hope, followed by having it taken away only increases our anxiety and the feeling that the world is out of control.
On top of that, for those who have obsessive compulsive disorder, this constant checking of headlines and news stories can become a new ritual. They feel better while scrutinizing the news, which can reduce their anxiety if nothing has changed over the course of the day. But, it also triggers a cycle of compulsive checking just to be sure there isn’t some new disaster lurking.
Psychological Effects Of The News
In a 2019 article by Hoog and Verboon, published in the British Journal Of Psychology, the authors pointed to several studies that showed a direct relationship between negative news exposure and negative emotional states.
They report that “After being exposed to negative news reports, positive affect decreased, whereas negative affect, sadness, worries, and anxiety increased. Other studies have found indirect effects on psychological distress and negative affect through an increase in stress levels and irrational beliefs.”
Although researchers aren’t sure exactly what is at play that causes adverse reactions like depression or anxiety after habitually viewing negative media stories, they theorize that it has a lot to do with personal relevance.
To support this, Hoog and Verboon, pointed to studies of people’s stress levels as they related to the 9/11 attacks and also the Boston Marathon bombings. In both cases, people’s anxiety and PTSD levels were actually higher four weeks after these incidents than they were immediately after the attacks.
This is likely because of personal relevance. The authors noted that “…people who are anxious or depressed are more likely to focus on negative information or information that corresponds with their mental state (Davey & Wells, 2006), which in turn only increases their anxiousness or depression.”
How Do You Deal With News Anxiety?
Here are some self-care tips that can help you reduce your anxiety by giving you a way to regain control:
First, stop watching news coverage and limit your time on social media. As we’ve discussed, when something grips us with fear, it is sometimes hard to break away from the catastrophic thoughts that come along with it. By endlessly checking headlines and reading social media posts about current events, you don’t give your mind a chance to gain some mental distance from it.
Also remember that news coverage is written in a way that makes us tense and concerned. A fearful headline makes us click on it – and it’s what keeps the reporters or news channels in business.
Do some stress reducing activities: Meditate, take a walk, sit on your patio in the sunshine, or try an online yoga class. Or take one of the endless online classes and virtual museum tours that have popped up during this time of social distancing. Being active lessens the stress hormone, cortisol, and also serves as a distraction.
Additionally, you might focus on doing something you’ve been meaning to do. Now is the time to get organized, clean out that cabinet, or try a new recipe or hobby. Staying active means your mind will be engaged by something pleasant, which will help to reframe negative emotions in a more positive way.
Therapy In A Safe Environment
Sometimes self-care is not enough to get relief from anxiety. If your symptoms seem to be getting worse or if you find that a couple of weeks have gone by and you are still feeling more anxious than you think you should about current events, you may have developed an anxiety disorder. In that case, it’s best to turn to a professional.
Often, just talking through your concerns may be enough to reduce them, however speaking to a therapist can benefit you in many other ways by helping you sort out your fears and allowing you to gain a new perspective.
If you are concerned about exposure to the coronavirus during therapy, most mental health practitioners now have tele therapy options available. With tele therapy, you can talk to your therapist from your home, so there is no need to go into the office.
We Are Here For You
To get more information and help for headline news anxiety, contact Dr. Andrew Rosen and The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida at 561-496-1094 or email Dr. Rosen and The Center today.