Do we have a healthy relationship with the news?

Do we have a healthy relationship with the news?

The accessibility of news and media has never been higher, than in today’s world. Between our mobile devices and streaming platforms, we are never more than a few clicks away from the news. Much like many other facets of our life, this increase in access comes with both a handful of rewards and consequences, with the primary benefit of a higher percentage of the public able to stay up-to-date on events on a micro and macro scale. In the same breath, it can be hard to determine how much news is too much news. This thought led to a recent study that looked into the increasingly unhealthy relationship between the news and a portion of the anxious public (McLaughlin B. et al, 2022).

Led by Texas Tech University, this study aimed to look at the interconnectedness of individuals deemed to have “problematic news consumption“ and mental/physical ailments via survey. It should be noted that this study did not attempt to find a cause-and-effect relationship between the symptoms listed and problematic news consumption, rather to understand if there is a notable association between news consumption and physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. Secondly, it did not look at other mental health disorders, such as depression, or if the individuals in the study have been previously diagnosed with a mental health disorder (McLaughlin B. et al, 2022).The researchers classified problematic news consumption as: compulsively checking the news, constant state of worrying about news, and experiencing interference in everyday life stemming from being absorbed in news content. Of the 1,100 randomly chosen adults surveyed, just under half of them had moderate or severe problematic news consumption, with 16.7% of them stating that their consumption has negatively impacted other aspects of their life. The study further goes on to state how the individuals who had problematic news consumption also reported feeling increased levels of stress, anxiety, fatigue, sleep, problems, poor concentration, and gastrointestinal issues. 

Problematic news consumption is an issue that needs to be evaluated on multiple fronts. The way in which the media has disseminated information has been a topic of debate since the printing press. What is considered sensationalism and fear-mongering? The public undoubtedly has faced immense hardship over the past two years which is reflected in the 25% increase in diagnosis of anxiety and depression in people under the age of 50 (World Health Organization, 2022). One study looked to find a connection between this increase and the way COVID was covered in the media, by surveying 175 random adults and placing them into one of three groups; exposure to positive, negative, or neutral-worded news regarding COVID. What was found is that the use of negative language/frightening language resulted in higher percentage of participants noting negative emotions and decreased feelings of emotional resilience (Giri, 2021). Not only does high media access come with potential detriments to one’s mental health, an increase in Internet usage has also shown to have a correlation with increased feelings of anxiety (Caplan et al, 2010). 

The world is certainly an unpredictable place and with an increasing amount of people feeling as though the world is falling apart around them, only feeds into an overwhelming feeling of anxiousness. Part of this can be attributed to the never-ending pipeline of information we have, but a balance needs to be struck so that individuals are properly informed of recent events impacting society and preserving their mental health in the process. 

Other than the use of pharmacological methods to treat anxiety and depression, one effective way to reduce screen time and in turn reduce stress and anxiety is to practice mindful meditation. This practice of training to focus your attention on achieving “calm concentration and positive emotions” has been used in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy to help treat depression and anxiety (APA, 2019).  

Problematic news consumption is most likely a concept that will only become more and more prevalent in the general public. It is imperative that news outlets make a more conscious effort to report the facts as they are presented, without the need to consistently push a theme of despair with it. As for what can be done on the individual level, it is not as simple as “stop worrying about things outside of your control“. This is a situation that needs to be monitored closely with more research hopefully leading to more targeted cognitive therapies for problematic news consumption.

References

Caplan, S. E. (2010). Theory and measurement of generalized problematic Internet use: A two-step approach. Computers in Human Behavior, 26(5), 1089–1097. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2010.03.012 

McLaughlin B., Gotlieb M R. & Mills D J. (2022, August 23). Caught in a Dangerous World: Problematic News Consumption and Its Relationship to Mental and Physical Ill-Being. Health Communication. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10410236.2022.2106086 

Giri, S. P., & Maurya, A. K. (2021). A neglected reality of mass media during COVID-19: Effect of pandemic news on individual’s positive and negative emotion and psychological resilience. Personality and Individual Differences, 180(110962), 110962. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2021.110962

World Health Organization. (2022, March 2). COVID-19 pandemic triggers 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide. Who.int; World Health Organization: WHO. https://www.who.int/news/item/02-03-2022-covid-19-pandemic-triggers-25-increase-in-prevalence-of-anxiety-and-depression-worldwide 

(N.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2022, from Apa.org website: https://www.apa.org/topics/mindfulness/meditation

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