I don’t know about you, but all this noise is driving me stir-crazy!
The incessant noise from the media.
While it’s important to remain informed about world and local events, the ‘news’ as it used to be called has increasingly become a channel for opinion and journalistic commentary. With so much anxiety and uncertainty around courtesy of the pandemic this relentless 24-hour merry-go-round of rehashed information has the potential to perpetuate conspiracy theories and accentuate the worst possible outcomes, which is unhelpful at best.
Enough of all this blah-de-blah-de-woof-woof!
It’s one thing to be appraised of our reality. It’s something else to become fearful and depressed as a consequence. Our mental wellbeing is being put to the test and those already vulnerable to anxiety and depression are the ones who will suffer the most.
How do you manage the noise?
A couple of years ago my parents came to visit us from the UK. At the time there had been a lot of socio-political upheaval in the UK. Every conversation we had had in the lead up to their arrival was laced with their despair and despondency about the situation that appeared unsolvable. They were fixated on the unhappy situation and constantly tuning in for the latest ‘updates’ on the news on the TV and radio.
As they popped out through the arrivals door at the airport, they looked tired, pale and the smiles were thin. With six weeks to remedy the situation, it was time to dial down the noise and reset their focus.
I put them on a media diet. With activities planned during the day and social events in the evening, their dependency on the confirmation of further negative news was gradually reduced, while I tried to ensure I wasn’t making it too obvious as to what I was up to!
When minds are fixed and our bias towards the negative is being regularly fed, it’s natural to get sucked into a downward spiral. We start to focus only on the bad stuff, we remember more of the negative information and find it hard to see the positive even when right in front of us.
Everything starts to take on a greyish hue, and it’s not helped by the English weather. Low grey skies, short days and frequent showers can dampen spirits and our natural resolve takes a beating.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or the winter blues is the not so great feeling associated with a low mood, lack of interest in life or enjoyment in those activities you normally find pleasurable. It typically leads to increased fatigue, loss of energy, sleeping and eating more and tends to improve as Spring approaches. It affects about 3% of the population in the UK and is more common in women.
But it’s not just the weather. Being fed too much negativity raises stress levels.
A survey by the American Psychological Association in 2018 found >50% of respondents were finding the news was causing them stress to the extent of causing anxiety, fatigue or sleep disturbance. If you’re constantly checking for the latest news updates on your smartphone or tablet, this may be doing your mental wellbeing harm.
Monash University has recently conducted a survey of 1200 people tracking the impact of coronavirus on the mental health of Australians. Early indicators show a majority of participants were registering mild levels of anxiety and depression and 30% showing to moderate to high levels. They are now undertaking a second study. If you wish to participate you can do so here.
One of their suggestions is to limit the amount of news to under four hours a day. It makes you wonder how much time others are glued to their news updates
Personally, the thought of watching the news for four hours each day makes me want to gag.
So why do we keep going back for more, especially if it’s causing us distress?
We’re wired to pay attention to things that are potentially harmful. In a social situation if a person is making you feel uncomfortable, paying attention to your feelings is important to your safety. Similarly, in a dangerous environment, your brain automatically switches to high alert in order to keep you safe.
With the media we have a choice.
If watching the news from the safety of your armchair is causing you angst there are a number of things to help dial down the noise.
- Reduce the amount of time you spend consuming news updates. Understanding how much time you’re spending on your news habits will help you determine when and how much would serve you better. If the first and last thing you do when waking or going to bed is to check the latest updates, what could you be doing differently to help break the habit?
- Seek out some good news. There are a number of good news channels sharing the good things happening around the world.
- Watch something that makes you laugh. Laughter is a fantastic workout for the body but it also boosts your feel-good hormones including dopamine, while lowering cortisol levels and stress.
- Do something that gives you joy. This could include exercise, walking along the beach, listening to beautiful music or undertaking a creative activity.
- Take a reframe. If a negative perspective and language have become your go-to how can you find an alternative viewpoint?
- Hang out with people who make you feel good. You know who these people are. They are the ones who put a smile on your face, help you retain a sense of perspective and take your mind off those things that are worrying you.
My parents returned to the UK after their holiday, refreshed, relaxed and a lot happier. While nothing had changed for them ‘back home,’ they were now in a much better position to reframe how they saw the situation and to stay more focused on the good side of life.
A Thriving Mind takes time and effort to cultivate. If you’re aware that too much bad news is getting you down, it’s time to dial down all the blah-de-blah-de-woof woof, to remain alert but not alarmed.
My new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) hits the shelves on July 31st.
Pre-order your copy on my website via Booktopia and get a second copy free! (Australian residents only)