Every morning when I wake up, one of the first things I do is turn on The Today Show. It’s mostly background noise while I complete the rest of my morning routine, but sometimes I find myself just staring at the TV, mouth gaping. Somehow, I still can’t believe all of the sad, scary, and otherwise negative news that’s plastered on the screen each morning. But recently, I started to wonder how this exposure to bad news might affect my mental wellbeing. Fortunately, Dr. Fran Walfish, family and relationship psychotherapist, has an answer for me.
The Parallel Between News Exposure and Ambient Anxiety
Walfish says that exposure to bad news can cause ambient anxiety: which generally affects those who have not yet developed a strong internal psychological or emotional barrier, according to Walfish. “Things they see and hear about penetrate them to the core. There is not enough internal protective layering for traumatic information to avoid internal shake-ups,” she explains.
And while we’re all susceptible to this negative side effect of too much media exposure, Walfish says she observes it more so in women: “I see a rise in ambient anxiety in women. The rise is minimal, but I predict there will be an ongoing increase in ambient anxiety in our immediate and near future,” she says. “The most common sources of ambient anxiety are the news (TV, radio, internet) and hearsay (things people tell each other). For instance, if a woman hears about the child of an acquaintance, or even someone she doesn’t know, who gets diagnosed with cancer, she may be riddled with such a high degree of worry and fear that she may believe her child too will get cancer. She may even behaviorally (diet, exposure to sun, etc.) change her functioning as if her distorted fears are real.”
“The process of picking up on external stress and allowing it to impact your own stress level is quick and automatic,” says Walfish. “The person usually feels an immediate rise in anxiety and a feeling of being taken over by their thoughts, worries, and fears. The anxiety takes on a life of its own and the person feels they can’t control their thoughts and emotions.” Often, there are accompanying physical symptoms such as…
- Increased heart rate or palpitations
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Sensation of hot and cold
- Panic attacks
“Ambient anxiety can have a cumulative effect. The more times you experience it the more susceptible you become next time you hear bad news,” she concludes. Therefore, it’s important you stop this anxiety at its onset and address the issue before it turns into a major hurdle.
6 Tips for Managing Anxiety Rooted in News Exposure
So, how exactly can you address and manage this problem? Walfish says you can start by adjusting your daily news intake and then correcting other areas of your life like how you spend your personal time and who you hang out with. These suggestions are detailed below:
1) Limit your daily news intake.
“Choose to read your news online so you can control what and how much goes into your consciousness,” as opposed to turning on the television each morning or night to watch news coverage, Walfish recommends.
2) Avoid negative people.
Her second tip is to cut overtly negative people out of your life: “While trying to keep a positive attitude, you must avoid people who thrive on negativity.”
3) Pay it forward.
Additionally, whenever you do start to feel overwhelmed by bad news you saw on the TV or in the newspaper, turn that into positive energy: “When you feel overwhelmed, reach out and do something nice for someone else. Being generous in words and actions creates positive feelings for the doer and gets your endorphins flowing.”
4) Take good care of yourself.
Her next tip is simple: as a general rule of thumb, take good care of yourself. “Taking seriously good care of yourself is crucial to your happiness,” she explains. “This includes what you eat drink, think, how much you move your body, and how much you rest.”
5) Don’t personalize.
Also, don’t personalize any bad news you’re exposed to. “When news is stressful, instead of reacting, panicking, or tripping out about what could happen, try to step out of the storm long enough to become an observer,” Walfish suggests. “Being an observer keeps you in a calm, slightly detached place, which helps you become more solution-oriented.”
6) Adjust your thinking.
And finally, recognize that your thoughts control your feelings—which means your thought process is crucial to your emotional and mental wellbeing. “Take responsibility for what you hold in your mind,” Walfish says. “Thoughts become things… choose the good ones!”