“There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“It is imperative that you learn to ignore or redirect all information and interruptions that are irrelevant, unimportant, or unactionable. Most are all three.” – Tim Ferriss, The 4-Hour Work Week
There is another terrorist attack. A new bombing. A grizzly beheading. A plane crash again. Another mass shooting. A new disease epidemic. Daily hate crimes. The world, it seems, is falling apart with murders, slaughter, death, debt, war, fire, threats, racism, slander, gossip and every sort of disaster and destruction you can possibly imagine. At least that’s how it feels to those of us who are blessed to sit in our comfortable homes, removed from the situation, and watch this death and destruction 24/7 if we so choose.
Many homes leave CNN on all day. When I leave my house (which has no cable TV news), I am constantly bombarded with news at airports, restaurants, banks, car repair waiting rooms, etc. Is it important news? Maybe, but what’s the impact on our health of all this exposure to tragedy at a distance?
I just googled “watching bad news and our health.” Here are a few things that came up.
News is bad for you – and giving up reading it will make you happier
CBC’s medical contributor Dr. Peter Lin discusses the health impacts of a steady stream of bad news.
Bad News Bad for Your Health
One in four people say news media is the biggest stressor in their life.
Here’s the thing. We can cope with bad news in your real life, because there is actions that you can take. But with sensationalized media news, you are an observer and it’s that feeling of helplessness that creates a lot of the anxiety.
Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you may have been exposed to in the last 12 months, name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business. The point is: the consumption of news is irrelevant to you.
A friend of mine challenged, “burying your head in the sand will not change things.” This is a man who has spent multiple hours daily parked in front of CNN. And how does that ultra informed activity (or inactivity) change anything? I can stay informed in seconds, what takes him hours. The devil is in the detail.
One blogger wrote, “More than ever, we can get every detail, every commentary, every image associated with a given story. We can spend an entire day fixated on an event. We can watch a footage segment a hundred times if we please. Do we pay for this need to know, however? Does news exposure – specifically its heavy, menacing, and disturbing stories – have an impact on our personal well-being? What does it mean to have looming tales of death and destruction so frequently playing in our periphery? What happens to the human psyche (and body) when they’re fed a steady diet of unsettling news bulletins?”
According to some psychologists, exposure to negative and violent media may have serious and long-lasting psychological effects beyond simple feelings of pessimism or disapproval. The work of British psychologist Dr. Graham Davey, who specializes in the psychological effects of media violence, suggests that violent media exposure can exacerbate or contribute to the development of stress, anxiety, depression and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A study of 89 people who were shown footage of four traumatic events showed that nearly 20% reported symptoms related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the viewings. (Frequency of exposure was a factor in participants’ emotional reactions.) As the head of the study explained, “’Acts of violence erode our sense of security and create intense feelings of anger, fear and helplessness. Watching these events and feeling the anguish of those who are directly experiencing them can impact on a certain percentage of individuals causing longer lasting effects.”
“Research has shown that there is a physical connection between what we think and the parts of the body that our brains control,” said Willa Decker, a clinical assistant professor and nurse specialist in psychiatric mental health with the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing. “Intense negative emotions can alter our perspective and contribute to our having headaches, high blood pressure, digestive issues, a weakened immune system or other health issues.”
Another blogger wrote, “News is toxic to your body. It constantly triggers the limbic system. Panicky stories spur the release of cascades of glucocorticoid (cortisol). This deregulates your immune system and inhibits the release of growth hormones. In other words, your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress. High glucocorticoid levels cause impaired digestion, lack of growth (cell, hair, bone), nervousness and susceptibility to infections. The other potential side-effects include fear, aggression, tunnel-vision and desensitisation.”
It’s a new world we live in, where we’re privy to every new wrinkle of death and destruction that rains down in some corner of the world. How do we process all of it? Can we? How can we prioritize our well-being while still remaining informed?
We’d do better, spending less time staying on top of each trivial update and devoting more time to discussing, reflecting, and thoughtfully acting on the major issues and events that we feel require our attention. Also by learning to live in “our” present moment, we can realign our perspective. As one person commented, “The relative peace of this moment for one person is as genuine and meaningful as the tragedy befalling another. The world, we must remember, is more than the sum of its crises.”
As psychologist Steven Pinker and international studies professor Andrew Mack write in Slate, the world is not going to hell in a handbasket, despite what the headlines suggest. Violence has actually decreased, and quality of life has improved for millions of people. Journalism should reflect these truths.
As Positive News founder Sean Dagan Wood said in a recent TED talk, “A more positive form of journalism will not only benefit our well-being; it will engage us in society, and it will help catalyze potential solutions to the problems that we face.”
Finally, my Kitchener friend Tanya MacIntyre, in her “Good News Only” site, recommends the Media Fast Plan.
“Take the diet that really works… a Media Fast! Don’t watch, read, or listen to news, and see how much your life improves.”
Live in peace
Walk in love