How to Read the News (Without Losing Your Peace of Mind)
Being plugged in to what’s happening is important. But a constant flow of alarming headlines can cause anxiety. A therapist shares how we can stay informed without becoming overwhelmed.
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“It’s hard to feel happy when I read about so much suffering.”
“Watching the news just pisses me off.”
“I worry that the next time, it could be me or my family.”
As a psychotherapist, I often see clients who come in troubled by what they read and hear in the news. They might feel tired and achy, snap at loved ones and colleagues or cry unexpectedly. Eventually, we zero in on stress about reports of the latest mass shooting, natural disaster or unprovoked policing of Black bodies. Stories of celebrity suicides resonate deeply, as if clients knew them personally, or … there but for the grace of God.... .
From cruelty and injustice at home to war and famine abroad, some days it seems like the news is a steady stream of madness and misery. Add contentious political battles to the mix — regardless of your party of preference — and 24/7 alerts can leave you feeling irritated, anxious and depressed.
Before I became a therapist, I worked for more than 25 years as a journalist. I’ve been on both sides of the headlines as an editor and writer and as a news consumer. Personally, old habits die hard; I can’t help but scan each day’s headlines on a few of the 20 media apps in my phone’s “newsstand.”
I know news outlets strive to highlight exploitation and corruption, and some focus on the most sensational stories to grab viewers’ attention. But too much negative news can amplify our everyday worries.
Yet, it’s important that we stay informed — to engage civically, to make plans and decisions or simply to know what’s going on. Staying aware rather than alarmed can help us to be hopeful and resilient.
A part of my work now includes listening to people’s bad news. But my colleagues and I are trained to be attentive without becoming anxious and overwhelmed. We intentionally practice self-care while taking care of others.
In addition to talking to someone about what the news brings up, here are self-care strategies that I use and suggest to clients for staying aware without becoming overwhelmed. See what might work for you.
Limit your exposure. Give yourself a fixed time to consume the news. That includes papers, TV, radio, podcasts and social media (where about two-thirds of us learn about current events). Silence news alerts on your devices, especially overnight and when you already feel stressed. Apps like BreakFree and Space help you track your smartphone usage and limit distractions. And cut off your consumption at least an hour before bedtime for better sleep.
Know the source. Before you react to that shocking photo or forward an incredible article (23 percent of Americans have said they’ve shared made-up stories), follow the links to determine if an organization or individual you trust produced it. When in doubt, consult independent, nonpartisan fact-checking sites like Snopes and Politifact to ferret out the truth.
Seek balance. Read a quirky story or a good-Samaritan story to counteract our natural inclination to seek out threats. Sites like Positive News and Good Black News help to challenge
the old newsroom philosophy of “if it bleeds, it leads.”
Practice mindfulness and relaxation. Find a quiet space to do this proven stress-reduction technique: Inhale deeply and clench your feet. Exhale fully and relax. After a few seconds, inhale and contract your leg muscles, and then exhale and relax. Gradually move up your body (buttocks, abs, arms, hands, chest, shoulders, neck, face), tightening and releasing muscles. Repeat if you’d like.
Do something. With so many problems in the world, we’re often most effective at creating positive change when we choose one issue on which to engage. Showing up to a protest, making a call, volunteering or voting may feel like a small thing. But that small thing can connect us with others working for good, offer us a sense of empowerment and instill in us satisfaction and hope.
Robin D. Stone is a resident clinician at the New York City private practices of Positive Psychology Associates and the Soho Center.