During my morning coffee. Over my lunch break. While cooking dinner. Any other time I felt I needed to keep up with the outside world that I barely felt a part of anymore.
These are the times that I have found myself routinely watching the news this past year. Prior to 2020, I’d usually turn it on maybe once a day. But since the world turned upside down, I, like many Americans, became glued to the TV — and not in a good way.
From April to June 2020, news consumption in the US grew significantly — and it became the most popular genre of TV to view with nearly 50% of Americans watching or streaming the news.
Paying attention to the news is not just turning on the television — it’s also scanning the internet or social media for updates. From March 2019 to March 2020, the time Americans spent online on mobile devices accessing current events and global news skyrocketed 215%.
As people remain home to protect one another from COVID-19, the news can feel like one of the only ways to stay connected to the outside world, even if it is full of a pandemic, social unrest, and even killer bees. Unfortunately, this constant connection may actually do more harm than good.
In order to take care of your mental health, it’s time to assess — when should you take a break from the news?
What Can Too Much News Consumption Do To You?
During any year, the news can be overwhelming. But during 2020 and 2021, the headlines have been more anxiety-inducing than ever.
Whether it’s an update on pandemic-related deaths, the continued racism that plagues our country, or the ever-tumultuous political ongoings, watching the news these days may leave you a little (or a lot) on edge.
One of the problems is that the news tends to serve up current events with a side of political perspective. This type of news is often dominated by negative stories, and it can leave viewers feeling helpless in the face of bad news.
One 2017 Dutch study found that people’s well-being decreased 6.1% for each news program they watched that offered a political perspective.
Source: The Atlantic
If you’re able to find less politically-focused news (though, good luck on that mission) you still may encounter negative effects. After watching the news, more than half of Americans report experiencing stress. Many also report experiencing:
- Difficulty sleeping
In addition, disaster media — which contains reports of crises and disaster — has been all too common as of late. Watching disaster media may lead to:
- Alcohol use
- Tobacco Use
- Post-traumatic symptoms
When It’s Time For A Break From The News
No matter the year, watching too much of the news can take its toll on your mental health. And if you’ve felt particularly overwhelmed when watching the news recently, you’re not alone.
As you navigate how to keep you and your family safe during the pandemic, stay engaged with fighting racial inequities, and follow the first critical days of newly sworn-in President Biden, it’s normal to experience a wave of emotions.
Still, it remains crucial to monitor these feelings to ensure they don’t venture into an unhealthy state of mind. Some concerning signs to look out for include:
- Feeling a sense of haze, detachment, or being on autopilot
- Filling up every moment with the news, such as while reheating food, cleaning, or cooking
- Feeling anxious when you don’t watch the news temporarily
- Spending less time on healthy activities, such as exercising, connecting with loved ones, or sleeping
If any of these sounds familiar, it may be time for a temporary break from the news. Give yourself a few days or a week — whatever sounds achievable and helpful to you.
Should you decide to take a short hiatus from the news, remember that it’s not limited to turning on the morning or nightly broadcast. The news can come from social media feeds, which are constantly exposing you to the ongoings of the world — whether you asked for it or not.
Moving forward, remain mindful of how much of your day is consumed by the news. Just as staying informed may be a part of your daily routine, make sure that not watching the news is a part of it, too.
The news will be there waiting for you when you return. But by spending some time away, you’ll be able to navigate it with a healthier state of mind.