News anxiety is not uncommon. The word can be a frightening place. That’s what I am told by a lot of people who have quit news. I have not stopped listening to the news, but I have changed the way I do it. And here is why.
1. News and our emotions
People who stop watching the news, tend to do so for 1 or more of 3 reasons. They believe …
- News is predominantly negative.
- News is frightening.
- News is biased and / or untrue.
Many believe news can damage your health, emotionally and mentally.
News can be uplifting and it can be up-setting, de-pressing and leaving us fearful. And that’s when we talk of news anxiety. The increasingly instantaneous delivery of news makes for good and gory sound bites and pictures. That’s why watching the news is not good for me.
Stories about human beings, countries, nations, continents (you name it) disrupting, threatening, hurting and killing is upsetting. At least to me. And I don’t want to be upset.
I detest being subjected to sudden and unannounced details of despicable acts. And in the past I have complained. The reply I received stated that such detail is part of balanced news reporting. I don’t agree. For the sake of such news and editorial rules I (like no doubt many others) end up traumatised – and I do not use this word lightly.
When we go through periods of heightened anxiety, then fear will look for and feed off any fearful stuff it can find. And that’s why some people have decided to cut out news temporarily or permanently.
2. News anxiety: real problem or indulgence?
While I write this article I am reminded of when I worked for the BBC World Service (not in a news capacity) in the early 90s. My experience was mostly limited to West Africa and for the purpose of this article I am generalising. On my frequent travels I realised just how much I had taken news and information provision for granted. Access to news then was a lot more restricted and difficult than it is now.
Then the main medium was radio and print. Even local FM stations were not available everywhere. Shortwave radio was one key source of information. With radios and batteries not always affordable, communal listening was common. Our broadcast schedule was designed with people’s daily routines in mind. And the audience would often arrange their routines around the schedule of news programmes.
Indeed during the 2nd World War and even now listening to certain stations in certain countries was / is an offence.
But news was and remains essential at times of environmental disasters, social and political unrest and economic instability. And let’s not forget the reporters and all the supporting staff, who often risk their lives (or have lost their lives) for the sake of the news reporting which we may take for granted.
So, part of me wonders whether whether news anxiety is serious or mere self indulgence?
On balance, I think not self indulgence. News anxiety should be taken seriously.
3. Change in my news consumption
I stopped watching television several years ago, when we moved onto a boat. It was a way of simplifying life. Some things got easier others more complicated. No single lifestyle choice solves everything.
Since then my main news media are the radio and online news sites. I don’t watch films online and news videos rarely. I have my favourite channels, news bulletins, programmes and presenters, who educate, challenge and entertain. Most of all, I trust them (well, mostly).
I don’t like reading papers, never have, never will. Perhaps it is because I grew up in a home with few books and hardly any newspapers. Perhaps it is because I am impatient. Probably more of the latter.
Though I am a visual person, I do prefer the spoken word where news is concerned. Because negative and upsetting news will impact me less deeply and for a shorter period of time, if it is not visual. In that way I believe that news can cause news anxiety and damage our wellbeing. Therefore, watching the news is not really for me, and I avoid it, if I can.
A more recent change in my news intake started gradually and unconsciously. I have become a lot more selective.
1. I stopped reading free papers on trains.
2. On the App of my main news provider I created my own news agenda.
3. If I read news online, I prefer a big screen and avoid using my mobile / cell phone.
News – at what time of day?
The conscious, intentional and biggest changes I have introduced are to do with the “when” of my news intake.
In the past I would switch on the radio as soon as I get up and I would listen to a popular UK morning news programme. Recently I have started to delay the switch of the button. More often than not do I do that now at least 30-60 minutes after I get up. And often then I ease my brain and heart into the day with some classical music first.
Listening to the news first thing feels like draining a run down battery of even more energy. I need more time to recharge, especially if I worked the evening before, or have been doing a lot of writing or video work. Then my emotional, mental and creative energy is low. Then the spoken word of any kind and news in particular requires energy I do not have. In that way news can damage our health and wellbeing.
If I start my day too soon with news, this will frame my day. If I end my day with news, then this may frame my evening and night.
The mostly bad news I hear about makes it harder to fall asleep and have a restful sleep. Sometimes scraps of news find their way into my dreams and it is unnerving. As part of my sleep hygiene I avoid news at least 30 – 60 minutes before turning in. The same goes definitely and especially for personal news via other media (eg email or social media).
Why I won’t quit news altogether
Cutting news out altogether is not an option for me. It would make me feel isolated and not an active part of society or our community. I also would not want to miss out on information that may impact our lives and that I need to respond to carefully or quickly.
But I also know from experience, there are times in our lives when news as much else plays a much more inferior part – during times of illness, bereavement, stress and such. Because then our world becomes a lot smaller.
So I have to manage carefully when and how I consume news.
4. Watching News and Health Choices
I am a passionate advocate for understanding and looking after our mental, emotional, spiritual and physical wellbeing. Even if we don’t always do all we can or do as well as we could with looking after ourselves, we should always aim for self care.
If we feel that news anxiety can damage our health. There is no shame in taking that on board and doing something about it.
I don’t think that’s self indulgence. I think that’s a smart self care strategy.
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