• Even though we might be far away from global tragedies as they unfold, our minds tend to fixate on negative events. 
  • While doing so can help us learn to avoid danger, news fatigue can occur when we spend too much time absorbing negative content. 
  • Burnout has been a popular topic as many people transition from remote work to commuting back into the office. However, it’s important to not confuse burnout with news fatigue, which is often less severe but still emotionally taxing.
  • To avoid developing news fatigue, control the amount of time you spend on apps with screen time tools in your phone’s settings or with a third-party app. You can also unfollow accounts associated with stressful, sensationalized content.  
  • Take a day to unplug and get back into nature. If you’ve spent time away from your loved ones, call or plan to meet up with family and friends. 
  • Explore uplifting content from alternative publications. Even though the vast majority of news is negative, there are positive stories out there and they can be inspiring. 

Your shoulders are hunched and your breathing is shallow, thumb propelling you through a dismal newsfeed with expert strokes. Each headline spells disaster for another city, species, or group of people, and we sink a little deeper into the tarpit known as doomscrolling. It’s a familiar scene: Whatever you name it, we’re plainly addicted to reading bad news. 

Psychologists and scientists alike will tell you that our brains are hardwired to zero in on negative events and situations in order to stay safe. This behavior can protect us—we learn from our mistakes, and hopefully use those painful memories to try and make different choices. That’s the theory, anyways. But in modern times, smartphones and other tech help us share bad news in seconds and increase our access to information about negative world events. While more information is often a good thing, at today’s pace, we may not be informing ourselves as much as emotionally exhausting ourselves. We can’t react genuinely to everything we read about. 

As we face another uncertain fall and winter on many fronts, the sensation of burnout is nipping at our heels and on our minds. According to our own research, popular usage of the term “burnout” has grown by 272%. Even with so many of us starting to buy into the fact that we’re slowly fizzling out, could our emotional numbness and lack of drive be caused by preventable news fatigue? And is there a way to prevent being swallowed up by the yawning void of negative news headlines

The Difference Between Burnout and News Fatigue

Burnout and news fatigue aren’t the same—but they might feel similar. Burnout has dominated work-related discussions on online platforms and news publications lately, and it’s not hard to wonder why. As many Americans head back to the office after over a year and a half of working from home, we’re rethinking our work-life balance. And socially, we’re slowly increasing the time spent with friends and family, while still wondering how and when life will ever get back to normal. What’s more, experts are predicting widespread psychological fallout from the global events of 2019-2021.  

Burnout: 

  • Is often caused by long working hours, but may also happen as a result of emotional or physical exhaustion
  • Is associated with a dip in our work-related performance
  • May affect our personal and romantic relationships by causing us to become disengaged and disinterested 
  • Drains motivation, willpower, and energy 
  • May develop into clinical depression or anxiety if left unaddressed

News fatigue: 

  • Is the result of negative news headlines that prey on our tendency to fixate on negative events 
  • Can be caused by excessive social media use
  • May be a sign of social media addiction 
  • Doesn’t usually affect work or our relationships but may negatively affect our life outlook
  • May be associated with disdainful, “doomer” beliefs about people, society, and the fate of the world as a whole

News fatigue and burnout may feel similar but affect our mood and personal lives differently. If work or your personal life isn’t causing you any emotional distress, then stop to evaluate whether you have doomscrolling habits that need to be addressed. 

Why Do Negative News Headlines Cause Emotional Fatigue? 

Humans are social creatures—we thrive on healthy interpersonal relationships, which are formed around shared ideas. But in today’s world, it’s impossible to have a personal connection with each of the near-8 billion people that make up our species. But that shouldn’t necessarily be our goal, either. Some psychological research contends that we do best when we’re able to process and empathize with our world on a more localized scale, not a global one. This sort of local, small community-based lifestyle that we’re hardwired to seek out. 

But despite technology-induced globalization, that’s not our world. At least, not for most of us, and especially not once our apps start informing us of disasters happening across the planet. On any given day, Twitter and other platforms can be awry with international headlines involving sex scandals, hurricanes, murders, pandemics, and unending wars. And if we’re processing that much bad news every single day (over two hours a day, on average), then we’re not only experiencing disaster vicariously through our smartphones but we’re also being forced to normalize these traumatic events. 

Being bombarded with tragedy is hard to avoid; and while the world is a cruel place sometimes, research shows that it’s important for us to turn our eyes away from negative stimuli, even if it’s hard

Guard Yourself Against News Fatigue 

The world might be growing more connected, and that can be a good thing, because we’re able to learn quickly and stay informed about important topics. Still, maintaining a healthy boundary with the number of negative news headlines you absorb could benefit your mental health; and you might be able to prevent, or cut back on the amount of news fatigue that you experience. 

Protect yourself from news fatigue: 

  • Limit your app usage: Get to know your Apple or Android device, and find a way to monitor your screen time. For most smartphone users, this data can be accessed by checking your settings. But if you aren’t tech-savvy, or tend to sabotage your own goals, consider downloading an app that will alert you when to stop doomscrolling and put your phone away. Identify news-based apps that tend to suck you into hour-long couch sessions, and start measuring your screen time. 
  • Stop following accounts or hide posts associated with stressful content: By removing sensationalized news headlines from your feed, even temporarily, you might find it easier to manage your news fatigue. While it’s still important to stay engaged and informed about what’s going on around us, keeping some distance between yourself and the constant flow of negative news headlines is important. 
  • Take a break from social media and reconnect with those in your day-to-day life:  Nothing beats catching up with family and friends. But if you’d rather spend some time recharging or enjoying your own company, spend some time appreciating your surroundings. The local park or trail might have the perfect spot to unplug and de-stress.  
  • Search for uplifting news: Instead of being caught in a negative loop, explore uplifting content from alternative news sources. For Redditors, look up r/UpliftingNews or r/EyeBleach for your daily dose of light-hearted posts and pictures. For more substantial coverage, check out Good Good Good, a publication committed to positive news and stories. Or even take a break from the news and scroll through some wholesome content on Instagram — The Dodo and Humans of New York are a couple of our go-to’s.

News fatigue won’t be magically stopped by a sudden shortage of global tragedies, but we can alter the way that we consume content on Twitter, TV news programs, and other sources of news. Instead of letting ourselves drown in the abyss of dismal events, we need to turn our eyes away for a break every now and then. The world might be burning, but there’s still a need to discern the difference between news fatigue and actual burnout. 

We can only empathize so much before we start becoming numb. Knowing when to put your phone or the newspaper down can help you keep the draining effects of negative news headlines at bay. 

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