Over the past few years, we’ve witnessed a complete upheaval of what we consider to be normal – and this is particularly obvious when we take a look at the headlines plastered all over our newspapers and screens.
From information about the coronavirus pandemic to stories about Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing conflict, getting our daily news update can be an upsetting experience at the moment. So if you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed, you’re certainly not alone.
However, one way we can keep these feelings to a minimum is by managing our news consumption in a healthy way; one that helps us to stay informed about current events, but doesn’t cause unnecessary distress.
Below, we’ll take a closer look at why this is so important and offer eight tips to try and help.
Why is it important to manage our news consumption?
Our news consumption (sometimes referred to as our ‘news diet’) is the amount of news we watch, read, or listen to. And just like our nutritional diet, consuming the right things in the right quantities is important for our health – especially when it comes to negative news.
When we read negative news, it triggers our fight or flight response because our subconscious perceives the negativity as a threat. This, in turn, causes our bodies to release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, resulting in elevated feelings of stress and anxiety.
To make things worse, in times of crisis, we’re naturally more drawn to the news. In her interview with Mind Body Green, Aditi Nerurkar, an integrative medicine physician at Harvard Medical School, explains that we feel compelled to read the news in turbulent times so we can gather information to protect ourselves.
However, this natural reaction can often lead people to over-indulge or even seek out more negative news – what’s come to be known as ‘doomscrolling’ or ‘doomsurfing’ – and it can be quite detrimental to our mental health.
But, as the majority of us will agree, the solution isn’t simply to avoid negative news altogether. As citizens of the world and members of a democracy, it’s important that we stay well-informed when it comes to current events, even if they’re distressing.
The trick is to be mindful of our consumption, so we can take steps to manage our media diet in such a way that helps us to stay well-informed while minimising excessive feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.
8 ways to manage your news consumption
1. Try sticking to a couple of reputable news sources per day
When we’re stuck in a doomscrolling spiral, it can be easy to go from website to website, or channel to channel, and absorb the same information over and over again in slightly different ways. However, by doing this, we risk exposing ourselves to unnecessary negativity, without gaining any new information.
One good way to avoid this is to limit the number of news sources that you’re looking at each day. This way you’ll stay informed about current events without over-exposing yourself to the same negative news with a new headline.
As for how many news sources you should be looking at per day – the answer will be different for different people. By relying on just one news source, you might not get an accurate, unbiased depiction of world events, as most news sources have their own social, economic, and political biases. And by reading more than three each day, you risk over-indulging in negative news. So a good rule of thumb is to limit yourself to a couple of trusted and reputable sources.
2. Sign up for a daily newsletter or bulletin
Even if you’re limiting yourself to a couple of news sources per day, there’s still a seemingly endless amount of articles or news programmes to read or watch in a day. And some of these might go into finer detail than is needed for the average consumer to stay informed.
One quick and efficient way to stay in the know is to subscribe to a daily newsletter or bulletin from a trusted and reputable source. These are daily letters, usually sent by email, that contain all the day’s main headlines and news in a compact and digestible format. They’re great for preventing doomscrolling and protecting your mental health for a few reasons…
Firstly, because newsletters and bulletins are curated for you, you won’t have to actively seek out information. This means that while you’ll be getting all the most relevant news from around the world each day, you won’t waste time flicking through unnecessary content.
Also, unlike entire news sites, newsletters are a digestible size and have a finishable quality. They also avoid repetition to ensure you’re not just reading the same news over and over again. So once you’ve read it, you can put it to one side and you’ll be less inclined to go on the web and start doomscrolling.
The easiest way to sign up for a daily newsletter is to visit the website of your favourite news provider and sign up; as most popular modern news providers offer one, like The Guardian, The Times, and The Telegraph. Or, you can check out this list of some of the best newsletters around from Wired.
3. Seek out positive stories
In turbulent times such as these, when the news is packed with stories of violence, conflict, and struggle, it can be easy to become – as psychologist Steven Pinker describes in his 2018 article on negative news – ‘miscalibrated’ and overly pessimistic. When all we see in the headlines is negativity, we tend to map this onto the world around us.
For instance, it’s quite easy to start thinking, ‘If there’s no good in the news, there must be no good in the world.’ However, this couldn’t be further from the truth, so it’s worth using your news time to seek out some positive stories. These could be anything from reports of a small good deed done by someone in your town, to epic stories of philanthropy and kindness.
So after you’ve informed yourself of all of the need-to-know things in the world, why not visit Positive.News – a magazine that’s “dedicated to quality, independent reporting about what’s going right in the world’? Their weekly ‘What went right this week’ series is a particularly uplifting staple to add to your media diet.
4. Be wary of sensationalist news headlines
If you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed by negative news stories and you find yourself spending excessive amounts of time reading and even seeking them out, it’s important to know that you’re not alone – and that many of us are finding ourselves stuck in similar negative cycles of news consumption right now.
These days, a great deal of news articles and publications are designed with the intention to get people to click on them and read them.
Many news providers do this through the use of sensational headlines (or ‘clickbait’), which are used to trigger an emotional reaction (our fight or flight response) and draw readers in by exaggerating or presenting worst-case scenarios.
An example of a sensational headline might be: ‘Neighbours Locked in Violent Turf War’, for a story about a shared fence dispute. Another recent example would be: ‘The Prime Minister Runs for his Life’, for a story about the prime minister taking part in a marathon.
So, to limit your doomscrolling habits and prevent unnecessary anxiety and distress, it’s worth making yourself consciously aware of sensationalist headlines, how they’re being used to draw readers in, and the effect they can have on our news consumption habits and overall mental health.
5. If the news is upsetting you, it's ok to take a break
Although it’s important to stay informed about current events, even if they’re upsetting, it’s vital to also take steps to look after your mental wellbeing. So if the constant negative news is getting you particularly anxious, try turning it off and doing something mentally restorative, like exercise, activities that help you focus on the present moment, and those that allow you to connect with nature.
Some people find that limiting their news consumption to once or twice a day can be a helpful way of managing the constant stream of negativity, whilst staying informed.
Most of the news we watch isn’t actionable, and also doesn’t change as frequently as we are led to believe, meaning that it isn’t directly affecting us in the moment and we can’t do much about it immediately. So, in most cases, you can always catch up tomorrow or the next day when you’re in a better headspace.
6. Try to cap your news time
We’re all different, so it’s difficult to say how much news any one of us should be consuming. Some people aren’t as affected by negative news stories as others, while certain people’s personal circumstances might require them to stay particularly up-to-date; for example, if they work for the media.
However, generally speaking, spending more than an hour or so a day watching or reading the news can be detrimental to your mental health in both the short and long term, especially during a crisis.
For example, research suggests that people who exposed themselves to several hours of television per day in the wake of 9/11 were more likely to develop symptoms of PTSD two to three years later. So try to keep your news consumption down to an hour or less per day.
One practical way of doing this is to disable news alerts on your phone and computer (if you have them). This will (hopefully) prevent you from being drawn back onto news sites and apps after you’ve had your allocated news time for the day.
If you get most of your news from the television, then it’s also best to get into the habit of turning it off as soon as you hear a repeated story. Watching the same news cycles on repeat can result in you feeling more stressed and anxious, but learning little to no more information.
7. Try to schedule your news time
Scheduling your news time can help to make sure you don’t overindulge, and that you consume news at the best time possible to protect your mental health.
The traditional daily news cycle means that many of us are in the habit of watching or reading the news at two specific times of day: in the morning when we get up and in the evening before we go to sleep. But in reality, these are often two of the worst times to get informed about current events, especially if you’re concentrating on negative news.
For example, this 2015 study found that people who read bad news in the morning were 27% more likely to report an unhappy day six to eight hours later, compared to those who read uplifting and happy stories in the morning.
And because reading negative news can cause feelings of unease and cause problems with sleep (not to mention the effects of blue light if you’re reading or watching on a screen), consuming news right before bed also isn’t a great idea.
During the pandemic, our team here at Rest Less found it beneficial for both mood and motivation to get themselves informed in the late afternoon instead.
8. Limit your social media usage
By its very nature, social media gives a platform for all voices to share their opinions. And while this is what makes social media great, it can also cause a great deal of stress and anxiety in some cases.
On social media sites, sensational headlines and out-of-context soundbites can be shared with the press of a button – so it can, at times, be a breeding ground for the spread of misinformation.
Social media is also used by people to vent their frustrations and share their own thoughts and observations – and the average user isn’t held accountable by the same standards that journalists are. This means that a great deal of news you might find on social media is not only difficult to verify but is rarely unbiased. So when using social media as a news source, it’s a good idea to take what you read with a pinch of salt.
Social media sites like Facebook also use algorithms that will analyse stories, predict which ones you might be interested in, and place them at the top of your feed. This means you might not be getting a complete and unbiased depiction of world events if you’re using social media as a news source. To read more about social media algorithms, you might want to check out this article from Forbes.
There is no doubt that these are difficult and uncertain times, and if you’re experiencing feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression you’re certainly not alone.
It’s never been more important to make time for self-care and remember that whatever feelings you have right now are OK. Reaching out to friends and family can be a great way to stay connected but if you find yourself feeling particularly affected and constantly depressed, it’s important to reach out for help if you need it.
For more advice on how to look after your mental wellbeing, you might also want to visit the healthy mind section of the site.
Additional helpful resources
- Bipolar UK – a charity dedicated to helping people living with manic depression or bipolar disorder.
- Cruse Bereavement Care – help and support for people experiencing feelings of grief or loss.
- Mental Health Foundation – information and support for anyone living with mental health issues or learning disabilities.
- Mind – a charity that promotes better mental health, and offers information and support on things like depression and anxiety.
- Men’s Health Forum – a 24/7 text, email and chat service for men who are going through stress.
- No Panic – a charity offering support to people who experience panic attacks and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), including a course where you can learn coping mechanisms.
- Samaritans – confidential support for people experiencing feelings of stress, anxiety or despair.
- Silver Line – a charity providing information, friendship and advice to older people.