4 Steps to Stop Getting Anxious Reading the News
I get anxious reading the news. For people who struggle with anxiety in their life, trying to keep up with constant flow of headlines can get overwhelming.
The question begs, how can we stay informed with current events, but remain grounded in an anxious life?
In a 24 hour news cycle, there are new distressing details to digest every new digit displayed on a digital clock. Our industrial, capitalist world worked itself hard enough to propel us into an “instantaneous world”.
News is now able to travel far and wide within an instant. The popularity of each story is affected by a myriad of variables, all being tracked and leveraged to garner more attention. Each article is a different snowball, rolling over us all until it stands a behemoth, demanding attention and looming over our mental capacity and focus.
Our news has become a never ending adventure narrative, most often chartered on waters of negativity and fear.
To combat this cycle of negativity, we have to understand a few things. The first is why the news is so stressful and negative. Then, we have to learn ways to incorporate news into our life without being so heavily impacted by it.
Why is the News Always Negative and Stressful?
The way we take in our news has undeniably changed. It is instantly available at our fingertips at all times, and this has changed societies intake of news forever. However, we tend to look past the ways journalism has changed. The way the news is conveyed to us has also drastically changed in recent years.
Our news now mostly finds its home on the internet. A World Wide Web of information, available to the majority of humankind through websites and apps. Combined with a lower cost of entry, there are now more ‘journalists’ than ever who are able to monetize their reporting.
Through advertisements on webpages, product recommendations linked throughout articles, cross promotions, shout outs, and various influencer marketing strategies – all of this journalism is incredibly easy to monetize if there is a reader base. The major downfall of this strategy is that most of these methods are measured by 2 of the same metrics.
Clicks & Engagement
How many people click on the article to read it? (AKA How many people can we then display advertisements to) and How many people will engage with this content through likes, comments and shares? (AKA How many will expose this to other people, who we can then show advertisements to)
Unfortunately for us, we are still living with the human brain. The human brain is conditioned to take more of a mental note of negativity, as a survival instinct. When things are fine, you go about your day. If your brain feels danger – your senses are heightened, including memory and emotional response.
Stepping away from ancestral instincts and into modern day – this translates to the fact that we could scroll by 10 positive news stories, but we get drawn in by a negative one. Our emotional response clicks into the article before you even think about it. If we feel upset, we may look to the comments for validation and instead find more people to argue with. We may even feel obligated to share the story to warn others – starting this cycle over for someone else.
Zoom this process out and apply the pattern to everybody browsing the internet and there it is… A ginormous negativity bias.
When we look at this through the lens of a company, who’s profits depend on clicks and engagement, then of course they will follow the trend. More negative news. Divisive headlines to spark discussion (Or arguments). Even misleading headlines just to draw you in. Accuracy isn’t measured – engagement is. It’s obvious why I get anxious reading the news. It is how it is designed.
The news remains important in my life. I enjoy being knowledgeable and connected to current events… But how can I do this in a healthy way?
How to Avoid Getting Anxious Reading the News
1. NO COMMENT SECTIONS
If a divisive headline is a spark – the comment section is a raging fire. The article can ignore accuracy altogether, but if the comments are filled with 400 comments of arguing, that article will shoot to the top of the algorithm.
The rule I have set for myself, and work hard to maintain, is to avoid the comment sections completely for news stories. Even just glancing at them exposes me to racist, homophobic, and generally hateful remarks. If you dive deep into these areas, you start seeing arguments played out as a spectator sport. This kind of activity loses contact with the initial story, and doesn’t help find solutions. It merely creates new problems and weaponizes people’s emotions.
2. No News Right Before Bed
I’ve been studying my own anxiety pretty closely lately. In this, I’ve discovered that first thing in the morning is my most volatile state. I often open my eyes in a panic, and that panic seeps in pretty quickly. If I’m not careful, I can quickly become agitated, nervous and stuck in cycles of dread about my upcoming day.
I’ve correlated it to my news intake in the evenings. After we get the kids asleep, I’d scroll and scroll. Exposing myself to headline after headline.
3. Have Discussions with People You Respect
Finding people in your life who can intelligently discuss current events is incredibly rewarding. Especially when opinions differ, but the relationship is strong enough to be able to talk openly without judgement. This allows your opinions and knowledge to be malleable to different perspectives, without subjecting you to hate and arguing for the sake of arguing.
Some of my favourite time spent with my wife, Amber, was over coffee and watching morning news. We would pause, discuss, get worked up about something we are passionate about, and come back down. It was magical, informative and a really special bonding time in our life.
4. Don’t Skim Headlines Obsessively
This is the rule I have the hardest time following. I’ll go to a news source, and read very few articles. Simply scrolling through headlines and letting them penetrate my stability, and weaponize my emotions. As mentioned earlier, these headlines are often misleading and trying to pull on your impulses. By skimming headlines alone, I’m not learning any new information. My only take away from this activity is fear mongering headlines, bias laced quotes, and veins flowing with worry.
By following these rules, and being mindful about my online activity, I’ve structured myself in a way where I can stay informed, without getting anxious reading the news every time. It will still happen, and I have to be prepared to put distance between myself and the news. I’m an emotional, anxious person by nature – but I get to control how I react to things as long as I stay grounded and mindful.