Negative News and Your Health
Mission: Master Your News Consumption!
It makes sense that we try to stay informed about what is going in the world around us. News outlets offer us information that can connect us with others, help us be aware of important issues and give us an historical perspective. Yet, the information we are served daily by many major news organizations is heavy on the horrific, divisive, illogical, absurd and apocalyptic. To complicate matters, it can be hard to tell what news is fact, what is opinion and what is fabricated.
With the constant stream of negative news, what can we do to avoid being ruled by the negative emotions, thoughts and sensations it evokes in us? Is our only alternative to forgo news all-together?
One way to mindfully explore this conundrum and your options for responding to it is with a technique called RAIN—it stands for Recognize, Allow, Investigate and Nurture. Let’s do it.
- Recognize what is going on. Acknowledge the emotions, thoughts and sensations that arise for you from taking in an almost exclusive stream of dismal, disturbing and scary news.
- Allow the experience to be there, just as it is. Let the emotions, thoughts and sensations you experience when taking in news and after simply be there, without trying to fix or avoid them. Give them your attention, noting to yourself, “yes, these reactions make sense.”
- Investigate with interest. Focus on the details of what you are experiencing. What specifically are the felt senses in your body? Is your stomach clenching? Do you feel nauseous? Is your digestive system revolting? Is your heart racing? Do you feel tension or tightness? Where? Do you feel immobilized or on high alert? Where are these sensations coming from … for example, are you stressed, afraid, anxious, feeling bombarded, angry, etc. after taking in the news? Do these sensations exacerbate an existing health problem?
- Nurture with self-compassion. How you can care for yourself, knowing that taking in negative news causes you to suffer? What gestures of kindness might help you cope with the sensations, emotions and thoughts you are experiencing?
Some examples of nurturing questions and actions you might consider:
- Do you need to reassure yourself? You might remind yourself that, in reality, there is always a mix of events occurring that can be viewed as positive, neutral or negative. However, major news outlets sell news and opinions, and negative sells, so they lead with mostly negative stories. This is not to deny the occurrence of negative events, but instead to acknowledge that while we hear very little about what is good in the world via major news outlets, a wealth of positive actions actually occurs every day.
- Do you need to forgive yourself? Accept that you may have been drawn into the fear, anger and despair generated by major news outlets’ lopsided attention to negative stories. Avoid berating yourself. Give yourself a brief window of time to be frustrated with these outlets’ approach to selling news (which you can’t control), and then move onto what you can control.
- What can you do to take in news in a healthier way? Here are a few ideas: (1) Rather than starting your day with the news, begin with meditation or contemplation and gentle exercise. (2) When you do get to the news, limit the outlets you get it from and the time you spend on this activity. (3) Consider when during the day it is best for you to view the news. Perhaps avoid it closer to bedtime if it raises your anxiety or anger, making it hard to sleep well. (4) Educate yourself about the outlets you are getting news from and which best balance positive and negative news as well as focus on facts rather than opinions and fabrications. (5) Find a legit source to fact check news (e.g., Fact Checkers: Real News/Fake News?). (6) Don’t rely on major news outlets to learn about hopeful happenings. Instead, seek out sources. For instance, consider scheduling in time in each day for public radio, podcasts, nonfiction literature and other forums that cover uplifting and interesting topics. Take in nature as much as you can, with seasonal walks and other outdoor activities, to expose your senses to “breaking news” from the natural world. Stay updated with the latest from groups you are involved in, to celebrate the positive and commiserate on hardships. Ultimately, keep yourself tuned into the good in and around you to avoid the downward emotional spiral that can come with a focus on negative news.
- Do you need to connect with others for ideas and support to take in news in a healthy way? For instance, consider asking a friend to join you in morning meditation and exercises, and then read the news together and debrief quickly afterward. Make a pact not to take in negative news otherwise during the day or to talk with each other if difficult feelings arise after hearing negative news. Seek out positive events together.
- How will you handle discussions about the news with the people in your life? Given that you may get your news (and opinions) from different sources than others, it is likely that you may have different takes on “newsworthy” events and their impact. Think ahead of these kinds of conversations about the extent you are willing to participate in them. Know when it is time for you to agree to disagree, so you don’t get into an arguing match, or to simply back out of a conversation to maintain your personal boundaries and show respect for the other person.
- What will you do when you are triggered by negative news? For example, if your anxiety rises, depression kicks in, you feel angry, you start withdrawing from others, you become immobilized with fear, or an existing health problem gets aggravated. Having a plan of action(s) that works for you (and is healthy) and then following through with it is critical. Coming up with that plan and then revising it as needed is something you can do with a trusted friend or a counselor.
The bottom line is that, instead of resigning ourselves to an endless stream of negative news and the suffering it evokes, we can be the “masters of our new consumption destinies.” We can develop habits related to taking in news and processing it and our reactions to it that support rather than cripple our mental and physical health.
Reach out to the Mindful Counseling Center if you would like assistance in dealing with overwhelm, anxiety, depression or other mental health concerns. Talk therapy can help.
Also see Practice RAIN.