8 Ways to Protect Yourself Against Stressful News Cycles
Forty years ago, we didn’t have access to news coverage 24 hours a day. People read their local newspaper in the morning, watched a program like “CBS Evening News” with Walter Cronkite in the evening—and that was it.
Then came CNN, the internet, Facebook and smartphones—and now news reporters can reach us every second. To make matters worse, most of this news is negative, because that’s what gets our attention.
In his TED Talk called “Abundance is our Future,” Peter Diamandis explains that it all comes down to a sliver of the temporal lobe in our brains called the amygdala, which is our danger detector.
“Every second of every day, our senses bring in way too much data than we can possibly process in our brains,” Diamandis says. The amygdala “sorts and scours through all of the information looking for anything in the environment that might harm us. So given a dozen news stories, we will preferentially look at the negative news. And that old newspaper saying, ‘If it bleeds it leads,’ is very true.”
Receiving a constant stream of bad news can take a serious toll on our mental health. When we’re in a state of fear, we feel drained and unable to focus on what really matters. Our creativity and motivation is gone, affecting our personal and professional goals. Instead of feeling gratitude and appreciation, we feel depressed and hopeless.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to protect yourself against the stressful 24-hour news cycle. Just because you can consume the news all day, doesn’t mean you have to!
1. Don’t consume the news first thing in the morning or directly before bed.
The morning is a sacred time. If you open your eyes and immediately start reading news stories on your phone, you’re allowing outside influences to shape your day. Take control of your morning by avoiding the news and instead focusing on positive activities, like eating a delicious breakfast, going for a walk or reading a motivational article.
The time before you fall asleep at night should be another news free zone. This is the time for you to relax and wind down, not read a story that will stress you out and keep you up all night.
Try listening to a news podcast on your work commute, reading the headlines during lunch or watching a news program in the early evening.
2. Turn off push notifications.
The more connected we are by technology, the more we need to control its role in our lives, and not let it control us. This starts with disabling push notifications on news apps, such as the iPhone News app, Flipboard or CNN Breaking US & World News.This will allow you to control what you see and when, and ensures that your day doesn’t get interrupted by unsavoury news stories.
3. Unfollow news sites on social media.
Social media is another area where we are bombarded with news stories 24/7. If you want to keep your social media social, and not use it as a news outlet, unfollow news sites and anyone who frequently posts about current events.
If you have a friend on Facebook who tends to ruminate on news topics, you can “unfollow” them, which means you won’t see any more of their updates, but you’ll stay “friends.” Another option is to “hide” the next post you see that you don’t like, and Facebook will show you less posts from that person.
4. Know your limits.
Everyone has different levels of tolerance for the news. Some people can read the newspaper everyday, and other people can barely scan the headlines without feeling anxious. It’s important to know your limits and respect them.
If you don’t want to check the news everyday, don’t. If all you feel up to doing is scanning the headlines and reading a couple articles every few days, that’s fine.
Tim Ferriss spends about a minute a day consuming the news. He reads the front-page headlines in the newspaper machines as he walks to lunch, and nothing more.
“In five years, I haven’t had a single problem due to this selective ignorance,” Ferriss writes in “The 4-Hour Workweek.” “It gives you something new to ask the rest of the population in lieu of small talk: ‘Tell me, what’s new in the world?’ And, if it’s that important, you’ll hear people talking about it.”
If you want to dive a little deeper, check out daily news digests, such as Need2Know, The New York Times’ Morning Briefing or the “Up First” podcast from NPR. You’ll get more context than just the headlines, but it’ll only take 5-10 minutes of your time.
5. Don’t obsess.
Once you have watched a news program or read the top headlines, get up and do something else. Don’t work yourself up by engaging with internet commenters or stewing about what you read. Move on with your day and focus on a new task. There’s a difference between being informed and being obsessed.
6. Go on a News Diet.
There’s nothing wrong with taking a break from the news for a few weeks or a few months. If you’re going through a stressful time personally or professionally, don’t read or watch any news. It doesn’t mean that you’re uneducated or you don’t care. It means you’re taking care of yourself, and that you realize that feeling sad and hopeless doesn’t help anyone.
“The psychological term is ‘compassion fatigue,’” says Mary McNaughton-Cassill, Ph.D., a Clinical Psychologist at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “Some people see this as negative, but I argue it’s a positive choice.”
7. Limit your conversations about the news with others.
If talking about current events does nothing but make you feel agitated, don’t engage. Change the subject or remove yourself from the situation. If you have a friend that frequently emails you news articles, ignore them or reply with a response like, "Thank you for thinking of me! You know, I'm trying an experiment—a News Diet—for a little while. While I appreciate your efforts to keep me informed, I'm going to take a break from reading these articles. I'll let you know how it goes!" They will understand.
8. Seek out alternative news sources.
If the mere thought of a newspaper raises your blood pressure, don’t read one!
- For science and technology news, try Futurism, MIT Technology Review and Futurity.
- Read the latest Uplifting News curated by Redditors.
- Check out positive and inspiring news on Good News Network, The Huffington Post’s Good News section or the “Today” show’s Good News section.
- For some laughs while you catch up on the news, watch “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” or “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”
9. Remind yourself that the news industry focuses on the negative, and that there is good in the world.
Remember, news reporters focus on the negative because they’re trying to get you to pay attention by “hacking” your amygdala. What is happening your own backyard may be much more mundane, such as a high school football team winning a game or a bank opening up a new branch.
“Consciously focus yourself on the evidence around you that the news is picking out the extremes and the bad things,” says McNaughton-Cassill. “You can’t change the externals. You have to get some control mentally.” While the news industry may focus on the negative, you can choose to focus on the positive in your own life.