How To Read the News Without Sacrificing Your Mental Health

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, Daniel Burke felt overwhelmed by the pace of the news cycle.

“The pictures and stories, especially about young children and schools … are bombarded [were overwhelming.] I have young children and I felt quite affected by these stories,” said Burke Sojourners. “The way we break news these days… it’s like a fire hose… it’s really easy to get overwhelmed.”

Burke, a former religion editor at CNN and contributing editor at tricycleShe’s not the only one feeling overwhelmed. According to a 2022 report by the Reuters Institute and the University of Oxford, 42 percent of people in the US will “sometimes or often actively avoid news,” and nearly half of those respondents said they felt the news negatively affected their mood.

Still, the majority of people in the US – 81 percent – say news is “critical” or “very important” to democracy, according to Gallup and the Knight Foundation. This can be especially true for Christians who follow the adage of 20th-century theologian Karl Barth: “Take your Bible and your newspaper and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.”

When God calls us to build more just communities, we first need to know what is happening in those communities—and for that we often need the work of journalists. But engaging news shouldn’t come at the expense of one’s sanity and emotional well-being. So addressing the news can be a personally and socially beneficial process.

What makes people turn their backs on the news?

Since 2016, news avoidance researchers Benjamin Toff, Ruth Palmer, and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen have conducted over 160 interviews with people in several countries who consume little to no news. Through a series of interviews in the UK, the researchers found that news avoiders not only felt the news was negative and irrelevant to their lives, but also expected it to make them feel anxious. That expected fear was key to how news avoiders explained their decision.

“Messages are seen as emotionally Taxation — a source of uncertainty and lack of control — making it a barrier to deeper political engagement in a complex and disturbing world,” the authors write (italics in original).

Although some respondents felt they had an abstract responsibility to follow current events, they consumed little, “associating news with fear and believing it made them feel little more in control or certainty of how.” to control their lives”. write the authors.

Dealing with big issues — pandemics, climate change, or wars on the other side of the world — can create a sense of powerlessness. It’s hard to imagine what you can do individually to stop oil spills or end US drone strikes.

In his research and interviews, Toff Sojourners said he’s come to realize that much of what might be perceived as “extreme behavior” in news avoidance “actually seems pretty reasonable.”

“Given the way they go about their daily lives, you can understand why they don’t appreciate the value of news more,” he said.

For many people, Toff explained, “It’s very hard to say what to do with all this information about things happening elsewhere in the world, which ultimately you probably don’t feel you are capable of.” all about.”

How to take care of yourself

The good news is that we are not powerless in the face of the stress and anxiety that following the news can cause. And we can practice engaging with the news instead of just passively receiving it.

Matthias Roberts, a psychotherapist who focuses on issues of sexuality and belief, told Sojourners that paying attention to how your body is feeling physically and emotionally when you’re reading or watching the news — or in social ones — is a fundamental practice Media – to build healthy engagement.

For Roberts, that often means noticing when he Not have a reaction to messages that would normally cause heartbreak. Dissociation is “usually a pretty good clue to me that something is wrong,” he said.

“…Staying connected to our emotions can create more action and more ability,” Roberts said. “Even if this action is only mourning; Even if that action is lamentation or actual anger, we can actually do something with those emotions.”

If we don’t allow our bodies to respond emotionally, we may even stop ourselves from acting for justice.

Our bodies can also help us process the messages, said Hillary McBride, a registered psychologist and author of Your body’s wisdom. She said that processing the messages is not just a cognitive but a somatic process.

“I don’t think our bodies are designed to know about things that are happening to people outside of our communities — which we can’t do anything about,” McBride said. “When we’re constantly exposed to things that make us feel powerless and overwhelmed that we can’t do anything about — or we learn not to do anything about — I think that creates an intolerable.” [cumulative stress] in our system.”

When Daniel Burke found the news of Russia’s war in Ukraine weighing on him, he set boundaries and a process. He limited himself to reading only about Ukraine for 30 minutes in the morning, and only from reputable sources like That New York Times. Then he closes his computer, goes for a walk and reads news about Ukraine only the next day.

“That set my limits. It was hard because I was really interested in what was happening there,” Burke said. “But at the same time, looking at my own mental health, I had to say, ‘This is the best approach for me right now.'”

McBride said that a walk is a great example of bilateral stimulation — a pattern of stimulation for the body’s senses that activates both sides of the brain — which can help process emotions.

Less passive, more committed

“Emotion is a body process, so when we experience an activation in our body, we have to release it to our body,” McBride said. “I want to encourage people to … first give a little space to notice how you’re feeling when you’re engaging with the news. And then if you feel anything, put your phone away. To go for a walk. Go for a walk. Jump up and down in place. Scream. Hold yourself. Shake. Go for a bike ride. Swim in the ocean. Put your feet on the grass. Do something in your body to signal yourself that you are feeling the activation and that it has a way of coming out through your body.”

Feeling our emotions can be the first step in actively engaging with the news rather than passively receiving it. When we react to news and act in the world, we are more likely to combat feelings of powerlessness. For Burke, this meant finding constructive ways to engage his attention after 30 minutes of reading.

“I’m going to turn my attention to something else: see what the Catholic Aid Services are doing and if there’s any way I can get in touch with them,” Burke said. “Whether it’s amplifying them on social media or contributing in some way myself. In the face of an aggressive invasion, that’s not much. But in terms of mental health, it can be helpful.”

McBride said paying attention to our social location can also inform which messages to follow more closely and which messages to follow more carefully or not at all.

“I live in Canada and am a settler on indigenous land. When talks raged about dormitories and mass graves in Canada last summer, it felt really important — painful but really important — to be a witness to what was happening on the news to honor the sacredness of the lost and the stories.”

Limiting our news intake might seem difficult when there are so many important issues to solve and address, but McBride suggested looking at news as medicine – a balanced dose can mean the difference between healing and pain.

Local news could provide “more opportunities for engagement, application integration and processing,” McBride said. But national or global news doesn’t always have to evoke feelings of powerlessness. In the right dose, she said, one could read national and global news and listen for calls to action or opportunities to question how processing the news can be personally transformative.

Roberts said that remembering the structure of many messages, especially those on social media that are meant to be addictive and never-ending, can help us see how our bodies are reacting.

“They are designed to keep us going and just keep us coming back. Just noticing and recognizing that is a huge first step,” said Roberts. “We have a certain degree of freedom of choice. We can turn off notifications. We can choose how we consume our news… I’m not very good at it, but I’ve tried subscribing to a [digital] Newspaper… and get my news media from the actual newspaper instead of the news app and instead of Twitter.”

It can also be helpful to place messages in the context of the community. McBride and her husband took turns reading “fast news” — breaking news, social media, and daily news — and “slow news” — magazines and long stories. They shared important messages with each other and helped regulate the activation and anxiety that arose from the never-ending cycle of “fast news.”

Burke said that after 16 years of working in journalism’s non-stop cycle, the new pace and new frontiers have helped his sanity and mood — without sacrificing his engagement in the world.

“I’m definitely a lot happier. I feel better mentally with that kind of media involvement,” Burke said. “I think I had the idea that media engagement meant engaging the world, but that’s not true, is it? You can still engage in a million ways offline with the world. And because I’d been plugged in for so long, I’d forgotten about it. But I’m really excited to reconnect with that mindset.”

Editor’s Note: In a previous version of this article, Hillary McBride was incorrectly titled a Clinical Therapist, she is a Registered Psychologist. The story was updated on October 20 at 4:15 p.m

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