I grew up in a news obsessed home. The day was punctuated by local and world events from the morning newspaper and hourly radio news bulletins, through to the nightly TV news.
On leaving school I undertook a political science degree, further reinforcing the necessity to be hooked on news.
It’s taken decades to balance my desire to be informed with the need to calm my nervous system. But the era of around-the-clock news coverage has made tuning out challenging.
News reader turned champion for switching off
After a 6 month sabbatical, Walkley Award winning journalist Leigh Sales recently announced that the “traditional model of the news is contributing to the mental health crisis in this country”.
She’s not alone in coming to this conclusion.
The spike in our news obsession led both the World Health Organisation and the US Centre for Disease Control to caution against it, stating the constant exposure to negative information is damaging our brain and mental health.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the news we consume today isn’t so much reporting as it is a way of keeping people addicted to the news cycle,” Logan Jones (psychologist)
Weirdly, breaking news or even checking your favourite news source can provide a hit of dopamine, the ‘reward’ hormone.
Addiction is a sneaky beast and until going cold turkey, we mightn’t be aware of just how hooked we are on keeping up with the news. The impact of this is not only psychological but also physical.
“Witnessing these events unfold in the news can bring about a constant state of high alert in some people, kicking their surveillance motives into overdrive and making the world seem like a dark and dangerous place.”
Consuming news consciously or unconsciously can make us feel like our world is unsafe, triggering our sympathetic nervous system into high alert. Stress, anxiety and or depression tends to come with the cascade of these hormones.
Stress also creates an inflammatory reaction in the body, flaring underlying health conditions like asthma and PMS. It may cause gut symptoms, pain, insomnia and impacts every cell in our body.
Finding a balance
The aim isn’t necessarily to cut off from the news, rather to become aware of how it impacts you and take back control of how you consume it.
“There’s plenty to be anxious about in life without the unnecessary fearmongering.“
How to break news addiction
Here are some tools to break the news addiction:
- How we start our day often determines our state of mind. Those first 10 minutes of consciousness are the most precious. Instead of grabbing the phone or turning on media, try a short meditation or consciously set your intentions for the day by imagining everything going well.
- Limit news exposure by choosing when and how you consume it. A 5 minute radio news update can be less impactful than plugging into rolling TV or video coverage.
- Be more conscious of doomscrolling, set a timer to pull you out of the rabbit hole!
- Schedule time to unplug from devices daily.
- Take a walk observe the world around you — challenge yourself to notice different things (e.g. a certain colour, plants, sounds).
- Explore mindfulness tools for improving mental health, such as nurturing curiosity.
- Create new habits – each time you get the urge for an information or news hit, make a cup of relaxing herbal tea, like chamomile. It’s helpful to get out of the chair and move your body. Pat your pet. Sniff your favourite aroma or a drop of essential oil. Or another positive activity that induces calm or happiness.
When we’re already primed for stress, we tend to seek information that reinforces our belief that our world is dangerous.If these tips are not enough to break the cycle, book a naturopathic assessment so we can create a wellbeing plan to support your nervous system and general health. Gill works online with people around the world.