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You probably don’t think twice about turning on the news or reading the latest stories online about what’s happening in the world. But did you know that too much news exposure can seriously harm your mental health and wellbeing?

People are consuming more media than ever before. Even before COVID, we spent too much time scrolling on our phones—but when the pandemic was ushered in, that time spent scrolling increased. We began to crave that social interaction and entertainment that we weren’t getting elsewhere, thanks to quarantine. Today, social distancing is still being encouraged and enforced across the country. This, coupled with the upcoming election, means that we’re still glued to our phones and we’re consuming an overwhelming amount of information—and yes, we’re suffering because of it.

While it’s good to stay in the loop, it’s more important that you take good care of yourself. Chances are your news exposure or social media habits aren’t playing nicely with your mental health, and you’re feeling depressed, stressed, anxious, angry, or otherwise unhappy. Fortunately, regulating your news intake can help you return to a happier, healthier state.

The Importance of Saying No and Regulating Your News Intake

Too much news exposure can set us up for a bad day and even a bad life. Dr. Ramani Durvasula—Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Psychology Professor, and Author—drives this home, explaining just how harmful news exposure can be to our mental and emotional wellbeing: “These days, it’s not good. Watching the news can exacerbate a sense of vulnerability and danger in the world, create polarized and often angering perspectives, generate a sense of hopelessness and helplessness, or leave people feeling as though they are not enough. Obviously, the simplest suggestion is to stop watching it—but in some ways, even if you make that effort, it still finds you. In bars and restaurants, in the TV auto repair store, in an elevator (I even saw a TV on a gas pump). Much like any unhealthy stimulus in your environment, you need to learn to say no and regulate your uptake of it (e.g. you are able to say no to an extra helping of mashed potatoes or fast food—it’s the same idea).”

You can create healthier news-viewing habits. First, subscribe only to news outlets that offer valuable and factual information. “Choose news sources that are more balanced and less sensational—as that may also address some of the issues above,” says Durvasula. Try also cutting back on your news time when it is oversaturated by bad news. “After a natural or human-created disaster, definitely try and tune in less,” advises Durvasula. “The coverage tends to be repetitive and often froths up more frenzy and fear over time, resulting in a sense of fatigue and stress when watching, especially when you are being affected or people close to you are being affected. With the 24-hour news cycle, it is really incumbent on us to control the uptake. Choose sources of news that avoid antagonism and are balanced—choose news that is less fear-based.”

Finally, if you need another strategy for cutting back on your news intake, make the news less accessible. “Consider removing news apps off of your phone if you find yourself getting lost in them,” says Durvasula. “The news cycle will not stop. We need to take ownership of our own health. News is like any other form of entertainment and sensationalism can often lead the day… which is designed to foster fear.”

Information Overload: 4 Simple Tips for Regulating Your News Intake

Mass media has become an integral part of our lives—which makes cutting back or otherwise adjusting your news-bingeing habit a not-so-easy feat (I mean, if you’re like me, one of the first things you do in the morning is listen to a podcast that summaries the latest notable news). But that’s not to say that it can’t be done.

As you may know, one key to creating a habit that sticks is staying motivated—and if you keep the above negative effects of news exposure in mind then this shouldn’t be a problem. Once you’ve decided that this is an important objective you want to accomplish, put Durvasula’s actionable tips to the test. They are outlined for you below, followed by some additional advice from us for following through with each:

1) Choose balanced news sources that offer valuable, factual content.

Certain news outlets may sensationalize, exaggerate, or even just focus on negative news—stay as far away as you can from these sources. It’s crucial that you have a true understanding of what’s going on in the world, which includes all of the good stuff in addition to the not-so-great stuff. Remember, too, that there is a difference between keeping up with the latest and information overload. If there is nothing else notable to cover, many news outlets will continue to talk about the same thing, in a new way. Don’t let this or them fool you. Know when it’s time to step away.

2) Take a step back when the media is oversaturated with bad news.

If a disaster or tragedy has taken place, every single news outlet and medium is going to cover it. Only consume as much information as you need and then put your phone down; turn the TV off. There is a difference between keeping up with the latest and information overload. And often, the media will continue to talk about these events in different ways for many, many days (even longer, depending on the event).

3) Remove news apps from your phone.

As we’ve explained many times now, too much exposure is never good—even if your go-to news sources are reliable. So, consider deleting the news apps from your phone. This way, you aren’t tempted to check in every time you unlock your home screen nor do you run the risk of falling into a negative tailspin because of it.

4) Bonus Tip: Replace news consumption with self-care.

As an additional note, replace your news consumption with self-care. Instead of watching the news every morning while you get ready for work, put on some soothing music. Rather than turning on your TV to catch the news before you go to bed, unwind with a warm bubble bath. Replace your news habits with healthier self-care techniques that’ll improve your mental health instead of destroying it.

Health Over Headlines—You Come First

We’re inundated with news, stories, and opinions related to COVID, the election, and other hot button topics. It’s important that we are able to take a step back, assess our news intake, and change our habits as needed. Remember: Your well-being comes first. And if it’s suffering because of your news intake, it’s time to make a change. If you need a little help making the right changes or managing the stress as well as other difficult emotions that can result from keeping up with today’s news, consider talking to a professional.

Anxiety therapy, stress management counseling, and anger management counseling are just a few mental health services that might help you in the midst of news overload.

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Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett is the Content Development Manager at Thriveworks. She devotes herself to distributing important information about mental health and wellbeing, writing mental health news and self-improvement tips daily. Taylor received her bachelor’s degree in multimedia journalism, with minors in professional writing and leadership from Virginia Tech. She is a co-author of Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book and has published content on Thought Catalog, Odyssey, and The Traveling Parent.

Check out “Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book” written by AJ Centore and Taylor Bennett."

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