Consuming the News with Mental Health in Mind
Updated: Feb 15
** Originally Published for Active Minds Blog, Nov. 1, 2019. Updated for Covid-19 Relevancy **
Upon finishing the prolific and frankly disturbing HBO series, “Years and Years,” I could not stop thinking about politics and the news and pop culture and international relations. What is my role in all of this; do I have a role in this?
A synopsis of the show reads: The six-part series follows the British Manchester-based Lyons family: Daniel is getting married to Ralph, Stephen and Celeste worry about their kids, Rosie is looking for a new partner, and Edith is engaged in one humanitarian cause after another. Presiding over them all is Gran, the imperious Muriel. All their lives converge on one crucial night in 2019, and the story accelerates into the future, following the lives and loves of the Lyons over the next 15 years as Britain is rocked by unstable political, economic and technological advances.
What impacted me most were the three-minute montages at the beginning of each episode. In just under three minutes the show attempts to recap five years of moments, memories, heartbreak and success. And each event passes in an instant, only to be followed by the next.
In a world dominated by breaking news alerts and overanalysis of the words spoken by people in power, it is difficult to separate one’s own life from what might be read online or watched on TV. The two may work in tandem, but they should not control one another.
When I was younger and facing the worst stages of anxiety and depression, I would read the news and be convinced of an imminent apocalyptic event. Each mention of 2012 took my mind to the worst images of oceans flooding cities. Loud fireworks that blasted each Friday of summer at the amusement park in my town would remind me of the sounds of bombs I heard in footage coming from war zones overseas.
Then I entered college and my worldview expanded even further. But the world’s influence on me also grew. Each Twitter argument between powerful politicians; each death of a beloved celebrity; each hurricane, wildfire, and earthquake all resulted in a growing sense of impending doom. The anxiety I feel with each new piece of information I read tends to affect my work, my relationships, and the way I care for myself.
The news can be frightening, and often detrimental to one’s mental health. Instead of running from this fact, I instead chose to major in Journalism.
While breaking news can often be the most fascinating timely points to talk about with family and peers, constant exposure to developing stories often leaves me speculating, assuming, and even conspiring about the world that may have inspired these events.
This speculation leaves the mind to wander with uncertainty, which can quickly lead to overthinking, connecting points and ideas that are barely defined. Instead, I treat the alerts as pop up ads: looking through them quickly, occasionally clicking on one that interests me. Otherwise, I take in the information I read and go on with my day.
An excerpt from a 2018 Time article reads:
“More than half of Americans say the news causes them stress, and many report feeling anxiety, fatigue or sleep loss as a result, the survey shows. Yet one in 10 adults checks the news every hour, and fully 20% of Americans report “constantly” monitoring their social media feeds—which often exposes them to the latest news headlines, whether they like it or not.”
If I find myself feeling triggered or affected in some way by a graphic, image, or a news report, I take the time afterwards to reflect on what exactly upset me. Because there is a tendency to frame events and occurrences within the media, I recognize that what I am seeing or feeling was meant to create such a reaction.
I find myself staying up to date with current events in a strategic manner, ensuring that the minimal amount of repercussions occur. I regularly check the science and entertainment sections of BBC News, movie reviews from the Hollywood Reporter, and the mental health section of Time Online; platforms and outlets I can count on for a daily dose of inspiration.
My advice is to follow news that aligns with your passions! If you feel the news you follow is affecting your mood or outlook on the world, filter your notifications, alerts, and media to cater your needs and interests – which can be both enlightening and motivating.
More than this, if the news you consume makes you feel helpless, take control of the narrative, take action and become the coverage you wish to see.
Less than six months after this article was published, the world is at a stand still in the face of the growing Coronavirus/Covid-19 global pandemic. Isolated and feeling a loss of control over our own fates, the hourly news cycle seemingly shapes our view of the day ahead.
The words I had written months earlier were just mere reflections of my struggle with the news, and its relationship with my own mental health - but I fear the same can now be said with the millions sitting at home with little connection to the outside world, if not the news streams on their social platforms or updates from breaking news.
I cannot sit and watch the world fall deeper into the depths of fear and hopelessness, anxiety and depression. When there seems to be no end to this global pandemic threat, the end will result but with detrimental consequences to the mind trapped in isolation.
Find an outlet, be that through technology and information or tactical forms of entertainment that can be found in the home. Treat each notification as a reminder of what is, and move forward towards what can be.
Trapped within our homes, in our beds, in our minds, the world can seem small and claustrophobic. External fears and hopelessness can seep into that of our own, but it doesn't have to be this way. Change the narrative that is being constantly reported, become the change you wish to see. Fear is strong, but so is the will to move forward.