The population is consuming news in new and more advanced ways than ever before. Whether it be old-school news publications from your local/national/world newspaper or radio broadcasts, 24/7 television news broadcasting, or new-age social media platforms such as Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and TikTok, the news is being consumed more frequently, and in more detail. These platforms include stories, videos, pictures, and updates of current world news, allowing the consumer an endless supply at their fingertips. With the ease of accessibility to news happening worldwide, people might become overwhelmed by the amount of news they consume and the stress-inducing content. Common stress-inducing news topics in recent years include exposure to war news, conflicts, and world diseases (e.g., COVID-19). Constant and repetitive exposure to stress-inducing news can lead to depression, anxiety, anger, fear, and many other hard-to-manage emotions.
Mental Health Myths About News Exposure
Information about local, national, and world news is constantly flowing. It is important to understand both the myths as well as learn tips to manage the impact they can have on one’s mental health.
“Just hearing the news won’t impact my mental health.”
Being overwhelmed by news coverage is most associated with viewing images and videos through the many visual media outlets, such as television and social media. However, listening to the news and even reading about the news can negatively impact both your body and mind.
“You cannot feel the impact of trauma if you don’t experience it firsthand.”
Whether first or second-hand exposure to current local or world news through repeated exposure to overwhelming news coverage can lead to mental health symptoms, including sleep problems, sadness, and anxiety. Reading, listening, and viewing images and videos of the news can lead to vicarious trauma exposure that can impact various aspects of your life.
“Children don’t pay attention to the news.”
Children may be exposed to more incidental clips and imagery about stress-inducing news, such as war news. Even if just in the background, children begin to understand what is being presented in the news during early childhood. Although they may not always completely understand the reasons or outcomes of what is on the news, they can still experience pain and confusion.
“There is nothing I can do to feel better about stressful news exposure.”
Exposure to stressful news can lead to difficult-to-manage emotions such as fear, sadness, stress, and anger. These feelings can impact different aspects of your life, such as your sleep and focus, irritability, and fatigue. Below are a few mental health tips to help manage stressful emotions from overwhelming news exposure.
Mental Health Tips
Below are some tips to help reduce hard-to-manage emotions, such as anxiety and stress, from overwhelming exposure to news.
- Turning off news notifications on your smartphone/smart device (e.g., Alexa, cellphone)
- Set a no-screens (e.g., smartphones, tablets, TVs) policy during mealtimes.
- When checking social media, set a timer for 15 minutes at the start to limit the amount of consumption.
- Take a step back and do something you enjoy (e.g., go for a walk, listen to music you enjoy, communicate with someone you love, donate to a cause)
- Decide what type of media you will consume and how often.
- When feeling overwhelmed, implement relaxation skills (e.g., deep breathing and meditation).
- For parents, here are some tips for your children and teens:
- Encourage your child/teen to take “News breaks” or unplug from social media.
- Include your child/teen in self-care routines, whether a chore or a family activity.
- Teach relaxation techniques during times of stress.
- Reduce screen time where news is playing for children/teens.
Message to the Public
It is normal and understandable to feel intense emotions from news coverage, such as concern for one’s well-being or to mourn the loss of lives amid war. These responses are normal and emphasize that empathy for human life is embedded in us. However, if you experience continuous difficulty focusing on your day-to-day life, changes in mood, sleep, and eating habits due to the news, you can consult with your health provider. Below is a list of RGV resources for further mental health services.
Tropical Texas Behavioral Center: (956) 289-7000
UTRGV Clinica de Psicologia: (956) 665-8800
Text or Call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (English / Espanol): 9-8-8
Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990
Relaxation Skills: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/relaxation-technique/art-20045368
(Co-Authors include Dr. Mercado’s Mental Health Lab at UTRGV: Gabriela Rosales, Andy Torres, and Amanda Palomin)