For anyone with basic internet connection or a TV, rolling news is inescapable. Push notifications, 24/7 news channels, half-hourly radio updates, browser homepages, newspapers and magazines have made the 21st Century the age of the headline – and with so many sources competing for our attention, those headlines have become bolder and more sensationalist than ever before. When that’s combined with genuinely seismic world events – Donald Trump’s presidency, climate change, Brexit – news coverage can really start to stress you out.
According to a study conducted by the American Psychological Association in 2017, approximately two thirds of those surveyed cited the 24-hour news cycle as a major contributor to their stress about the world and the future. There’s even a name for it, Headline Stress Disorder, coined by Steven Stosny, PhD, in relation to the presidential election campaign in 2016.
If you find yourself overwhelmed, angry or otherwise emotionally strained by unrelenting headlines, learning to cope is a matter of maintaining perspective and finding ways to detach from the coverage.
A need for news ‘is like any tech addiction: constant checking causes the release of dopamine
Keep Your Checking In Check If you look at your phone as soon as you wake up, the first thing you’re likely to see is a breaking news headline – and it’s highly unlikely that’s going to fill you with joy for the day ahead. A simple solution for that is to turn notifications off in your phone’s settings. ‘This way,’ says Dr Jana Scrivani janascrivani.com, ‘you control when and how you consume today's headlines, rather than the other way around.’ Scrivani also recommends setting a daily limit on your news consumption: ‘perhaps no more than half an hour a day.’ Not only is there only so much information we can process, but obsessively checking the news can lead to changes in our brains.
Dr Jessamy Hibberd says that a need for news ‘is like any tech addiction: constant checking causes the release of dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter, which is stimulated by the unpredictability you get when you check online for updates. The fact it’s not guaranteed – there may or may not be more news breaking – adds to that.’ To pull yourself away, Dr Hibberd says something as simple as ‘moving your phone out of your bedroom, so it’s not something you check first thing in the morning and last minute at night’, can be an effective means of limitation.
Be A Force For Good When nations the other side of the world are gripped by crisis, it can be tough to just sit back and watch. But while you might be powerless to affect far-flung events, focusing your attention closer to home can alleviate the sense of helplessness.
‘It helps to find a way to do something concrete in your own neighborhood or community,’ says McNaughton-Cassill. ‘If you’re concerned about a social issue, find a way to contribute to solutions.’ That might mean volunteering at a local food bank, or helping out with a community project – anything that allows you to address an issue in practical terms.
Keep Things In Perspective ‘Disasters, wars, and interpersonal conflict are not new,’ says clinical psychologist Mary McNaughton-Cassill. ‘The difference is that in a technological, mediated age we know more about things happening around the world than ever before, but often feel helpless to change them.’
McNaughton-Cassill says one solution is to realise that, for most, things could be much worse. ‘There are of course many inequities and issues we need to address,’ she says, ‘but when people tell me that the world has never been so terrible I ask them whether they would rather go back to being a slave in Egypt, a peasant in the middle ages, a soldier in the Revolutionary War, or even just a middle-class American 120 years ago.’
Despite what the headlines say, there are positive things happening in the world
Look For The Positives With the digital landscape centred on clicks and views, the purpose of headlines is becoming increasingly self-serving: to draw us in. And shock or scandal grab our attention far easier than positive stories lacking in drama and wide-reaching implication. But those stories do exist, and though they may be given less coverage, it benefits us to seek them out.
‘Despite what the headlines say, there are positive things happening in the world,’ says Dr Scrivani. She recommends Goodnewsnetwork.org as a site that can help ensure ‘positive news us a regular part of your headline diet.’ McNaughton-Cassill also recommends ‘seeking out and sharing stories of compassion and success.’ She points to an organisation called Solutions Journalism, which is urging reporters and media outlets to spend more time covering efforts to fix problems, rather than highlighting negative situations.
WHAT NEXT? Watch this short video, to see how ‘solutions journalism’ is spreading positive news stories…