News is important. It allows us to understand important events in the world, to be aware of current affairs and to raise awareness for incredibly important issues that need our action to make a difference.
Additionally, the rise in technology allows news from all over the world to spread to higher numbers of people at a faster rate than ever before. On one hand, this has some wonderful consequences, allowing people to connect, to make information more accessible and to promote positive change in the world.
However, there is a caveat I wish to address. It is impossibly hard to avoid bad news.
Negative News & Mental Health
Through my studies of psychology, I have learned of the theory of negativity bias. We are all naturally drawn to pay more attention to negative information than positive.
This is an innate process that can be very beneficial for our survival, especially for our primal ancestors. It would have benefited survival to have a greater awareness of a predator, or dangerous plant or weather condition.
This awareness of negative stimuli would have allowed our stress response to incite us to avoid, attack or find a solution to the danger. However, in the present day, such threats are not always so tangible.
Economic difficulties, environmental worries, politics, health scares… these are all threats that call for our attention due to the negative impact they can have on ourselves or others. However, these threats are not so easily removed.
Our attention is therefore naturally drawn to such issues, further enforced by media, whose job is to provide information that we will be interested in and drawn to.
In a news broadcast on “the fun facts about bunnies” and “The items killing you in your own home”, we are more likely to pay attention to the later.
The constant stream of negative information can have negative outcomes. As previously explained, exposure to negative information can trigger our stress response, however, if this negative stimulus seems constant and with no quick or effective solution, we are more prone to experience anxiety, depression or simply denial of the negative event.
Furthermore, if your body is under the impression that it is in danger from seeing negative news, our primal brain will think it is in a dangerous environment, and therefore increase awareness for any negative information.
Thus, like a muscle, our mind becomes trained in focusing on negatives, which can lead to a rather gloomy outlook on life!
Our Desire For Negative News
Unfortunately, the algorithms of media outlets also need to then “increase” their negativity to continue to grab our attention. This can be seen through dramatic images, emotional wording and a rise in fearmongering.
I argue that this vicious circle of fear-mongering and constant seeking of media information can lead to an increase in ill mental health, increase polarising opinions and create distrust amongst communities, due to constant uncertainty and anxiousness about the state of our everyday lives.
Furthermore, we may engage in avoidant behaviours. Our minds may try to block or ignore negative information, leading to less awareness or help given to those the media was initially trying to help.
I cannot remember a day when I have not been reminded of at least one negative piece of information about the world through my phone, my laptop or in newspapers and TV.
Whilst being practical and recognising negative news is a necessary and important part of life and making a positive difference to the world, I think we need to start to be aware of the impact of the constant stream of negative media on our mental health.
Overcoming The Impact Negative News Has On Mental Health
To combat these effects, I have a few suggestions for ways to balance our engagement with media.
- balance negative news with a source of positive news. Try to follow sites that deliberately focus on positive news.
- If you are feeling overwhelmed, do not be afraid to take a break from engaging in world news for a time. This could be done by turning off news notifications or removing certain apps and social media accounts.
- Discuss any anxieties or worries with someone you can trust.
- Consider avoiding news and social media when you first wake up or before bed. These are both times when our minds should be able to relax, and extra stimulation from negative news may exasperate stress levels.
I hope that with increasing awareness and being more mindful of our news and media interaction, we can all aim to develop a better relationship with media, for the benefits of others and our own mental well-being.