Canyon Ranch (Massachusetts)
May you live in interesting times - Chinese curse
Part of keeping ourselves in harmony during our current "interesting times" is managing the impact the news has on us, because - this just in! - the news can stress you out.
Every day we're bombarded with the sights and sounds of horrific events taking place around the globe and in our own backyards. Standard newscasts, coupled with modern technologies - cable and the Internet that allow us to experience events unfolding before our eyes - bring distant wars and minute-by-minute reporting on economic crises and natural disasters into our living rooms and cars, onto our desktops and even into our phones. Not surprisingly, media immersion can lead to depression, anxiety, loss of sleep and an overall bleak outlook on the world.
A grain of salt
The cure is to take control of your consumption of news. Stop to think about it: What do you really need to know? The media often concentrates on sensational or horrifying stories with little redeeming value, and on images that sell tragedy. But consider: Does a crime spree in another city affect the way you live? Are you actually going to do anything differently based on what the stock market did today? Well then, why should you give it your attention?
There's good reason not to. Over time, if bad news is all you see and hear, your view of the world will tend to become equally dark and grim.
Part of the reason is that news is fundamentally unbalanced. If every item were reported, the tragedy of a car wreck would be put into perspective by noting that millions of people traveled safely in cars that day. But news organizations don't profit from promoting a sense of well-being, and rarely tell us about positive events, or about ordinary things simply going right. It's important to remind ourselves that the news presents only a small slice of the world.
The message is the medium
It's not just the content of the news that's to blame for heightened anxiety. The severe, rapid cadence of newscasters' deliveries can produce anxiety - in fact, they're meant to. Notice the intense, high-energy music at the beginning of national and local newscasts and how it contrasts with the soothing themes played at the end. The message at the beginning is: You must pay attention! The message at the end is: Now you can relax.
Even positive stories are often given a negative spin. People are driving less and using less gasoline? Bad! The drop in gasoline tax collections is terrible! It's a beautiful, sunny day? You need to worry about skin cancer! It's raining? Oh, boy - global warming.
Just remember, the media want your attention, and to get it they appeal to your human tendency to worry.
And the good news is...
So what can you do? No one wants to be like an ostrich with its head buried in the sand, yet staying mentally healthy is just as important as being informed about current events.
These tips may help in combating the stress that comes with keeping up on the news:
Avoid repetition. When you start getting the same story over and over, switch off.
Don't be a news junkie. When a crisis or breaking news event occurs, decide how many times you'll watch updates on television or check the Web. Stick to your limit - the world will still be there in the morning.
Get your news from print sources instead of electronic ones. You'll be less bombarded by disturbing images, and you have more control - you can skip to what most interests you.
Change your focus. The media can dominate all your thoughts and time. Deliberately do things to break away. If you already have hobbies or volunteer, consider stepping it up. If you don't, learn to do something that interests you, or start helping others. Spend more time with family and friends. Read novels. And don't forget regular exercise, preferably outside. There's nothing better than a brisk walk to reset your focus and your mood.
Don't be scared: Prepare! If you feel anxious because of events in the news, take necessary precautions - create a family emergency plan and stock a home emergency kit. Then quit worrying: You're ready.
Have a heart. Give yourself permission to feel and grieve the losses of others when you encounter disturbing news. Cry with the victims, send a donation if you feel moved to, and then get on with life. Carrying around the sadness of the world doesn't actually help anybody, and it can hurt you.
Make a connection with others. Talk with family or friends about news events that cause you concern. Simply talking about what bothers you helps keep fear in check.
Take a news break. When the news becomes overwhelming or just plain depressing, the best way to refocus is simply to take a news sabbatical for a day or two. The world will go on in exactly the same way whether or not you're paying attention. Just focusing on that fact can be a comfort.