The Exchange

Commentary and Observations from
the Medical Front Lines

How Much News Is Too Much News?

How Much News Is Too Much News?

With the COVID-19 pandemic and influx of global interest in current events, many people started consuming—or starting consuming more—news stories. This increase in overall news consumption makes sense; when the pandemic began, people wanted to get more information about the virus, restrictions, spread, etc. According to Jacqueline Bullis, PhD, a clinical psychologist, "When uncertainty is high, it drives our brains to seek as much information as possible to help us feel in control." On the other hand, staying glued to the news—whether online, on television, or in print—can have both positive and negative effects. Having more information may reduce our anxiety in the short term, but in the long term it may have the opposite effect. These behaviors can cause a cyclical increase in anxiety in the long term, perpetuating the idea that more information equates to more control, causing us to seek out more and more information for a feeling of certainty. As almost nothing is ever certain, and many news providers report stories with varying levels of detail and bias, the overconsumption can actually cause us to feel more anxious. Often, I now hear people say they "need to take a break from the news"; I don't remember hearing that as a common statement in the past.

One strategy is to limit our exposure to troubling news. This is easier said than done, as breaking the cycle of information seeking can be anxiety inducing in its own way. To begin limiting exposure, the first step is to determine what information is helpful versus unhelpful and anxiety inducing. Similarly, it is important to identify which news seeking behaviors are helpful versus damaging (ie, reading the news every morning for 30 minutes vs looking up new information constantly throughout the day).

We can also be selective about which media sources we choose to get information from. For many people, sticking to sources they trust can be helpful. Additionally, people can also seek out positive stories each day to contrast some of the stressful news. Reading or hearing about positive stories can be inspiring and help us remember that there is still good news to be celebrated in our world.

Next time you hear someone say they are limiting the amount of time they spend listening or reading the news or being on social media, suggest that instead of avoiding the news, they work to balance their consumption of it. Afterall, balance is beneficial in all aspects of our lives.


Filed under: Health Policy and Trends, Miscellaneous

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