9 Strategies For Engaging With The News Cycle Without Hurting Your Mental Health
With Donald Trump as president, you may find yourself wanting to stick your head under a pillow and taking a nap until 2021. But until scientists figure out a way for us to hibernate, we're stuck getting through the next four years as best we can. Unfortunately, dealing with a news cycle that bombards readers with violence, misery, and fear 24 hours a day can take a toll on anyone's mental health.
In many ways, this isn't actually anything new. Sensationalist media coverage has been a problem for quite some time, and humans naturally tend to remember negative events over neutral or positive ones. Taken together, it's easy to see where the idea that "no news is good news" came from; the world always feels like it's going to pieces somewhere.
That being said, it's naive to discount the influence of modern technology on how much news we consume. Thanks to the internet, and particularly social media, it's almost impossible to avoid the stories about political strife, military airstrikes, mass shootings, or contaminated drinking water — whatever is dominating the news cycle at the time. Furthermore, it's no secret that journalism has been deeply affected by the internet's free-for-all nature, leading to the rise of clickbait just to stay afloat as an industry.
Obviously, you can't avoid the news forever. For one thing, it would be almost impossible without going off the grid, and for another, ignoring current events just lets things continue unchecked. However, research indicates that an unrelentingly dismal news cycle can impact your mood and chip away at optimism. With that in mind, here are nine strategies for dealing with the news cycle without having a breakdown and moving to a cabin in the middle of nowhere.
1. Stay Informed
Hear me out. You don't have to download a bunch of news apps and scour them for information every morning, but it's impossible to have perspective if you're uninformed. Try to keep up with the basic details of current events, so you'll have a better understanding of what's going on. That way, you'll be able to judge for yourself whether the news is as negative as it seems. Here are a few ways to stay on top of everything that's going on.
2. Read The Articles
Here's a tip from a journalist: Headlines are meant to grab your attention. They're brief by nature, but it's not possible to cram the nuances of, say, the "nuclear option" into just a few words. There's always more to the story — so rather than assuming everything is falling apart, read (or at least skim) the entire article to get the full picture. It might not be as dire as you're imagining.
3. Recognize Sensationalism & Fake News
Fake news has always been around, but it's certainly been exacerbated by the ease of sharing information online. Learn to recognize fake news, whether it's political in nature or just nonsense, so you won't waste your time getting worried about a problem that doesn't even exist. Just this week, Facebook started offering an "educational tool" to help you spot fake news on social media, so there's no excuse not to learn what to look for.
4. Read Some Good News
As I mentioned earlier, humans have a natural tendency to remember bad news in great detail, while everything else fades into the background. It's called the negativity bias, and it might be why you feel like the sky is constantly falling down. Pay attention to what kind of news you're reading; if you gravitate toward the negative stuff, make sure you read a few fluff pieces as well. You'll feel better afterward.
5. Unfollow People Who Stress You Out
Some people can be totally pleasant in real life, but their social media accounts are veritable factories of partisan nonsense. Although getting stuck in the political echo chamber can be a real danger, if certain people you follow are straight-up stressing you, go ahead and click unfollow.
6. Shut Off Breaking News Alerts
If you use a news app, turn off push notifications. You'll still be able to keep up with the news, but it won't interrupt your daily life.
7. Set Limits
Don't get sucked into the news equivalent of a Wikipedia black hole. Once you've read your fill, put down your phone or shut down your laptop, digest the information, and go on with your day. If that's easier said than done, try setting a limit on how many articles you read at a time.
8. Don't Wake Up Scrolling
Sleep with your phone by your bed if you want (it does make for a pretty good alarm clock), but don't automatically reach for it right when you wake up. Before you know it, you'll end up checking the news for yourself or scrolling through social media, where you'll be bombarded with information anyway. At least wait until you've had some caffeine before you pull up the New York Times, so you've had a little time away from the world.
Besides, social media and mental health have a complicated relationship anyway. A few minutes away from the Internet each morning probably can't hurt.
9. Take A Break When You Need One
Pay attention to your reaction to different types of news. Do some topics make you particularly anxious or angry? If so, learn to avoid reading about them when you're already feeling fragile. This also applies more generally: If you feel like a break from the news cycle, take one. You can still keep up with current events by hearing it from other people for a few days, and when you start reading up again, you won't feel as mentally exhausted.
These are just a few ways to deal with the news cycle; obviously, you might have your own particular strategies. If none of them work, maybe I'll see you on a Pacific island someday.