Healthy News Media Consumption: Staying Informed on Current Events

by | Oct 25, 2023 | Adolescents, Anxiety, Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Depression, Life Skills, Young Adults

Written by Dr. Erica Dashow

Erica Dashow, Ph.D., BCBA-D, is a licensed psychologist and board-certified behavior analyst at the Center for Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Dr. Dashow specializes in evidence-based treatment of feeding disorders, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourette syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, challenging behavior, and autism spectrum disorder.

We are living through a tumultuous period in the world’s history. It seems there is always new information about negative events for us to absorb, and our newsfeeds and timelines now act as feature panels for the many breaking updates that vie for our attention. Taking a more strategic approach to media consumption can help maintain your emotional wellbeing, but if you’re finding that this isn’t enough to foster healthy news media, it may be helpful to seek outside support from a cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) therapist.

This influx of negative events has prompted many people to access their phones or televisions at a much higher frequency in order to stay up-to-date on the news. Staying informed will help us stay safe and feel better, right? Well, not always. When we’re anxious, we tend to seek out information that confirms our fears. Our brains are programmed to detect threats rather than dismiss them, and the news can be full of them. While it’s important to stay informed, for some of us, too much information can lead to anxiety, confusion, or anger. This is particularly true now, when the internet is a sea of information, and an ocean of misinformation.

At the same time, completely closing ourselves off to the news may not be helpful either. For some, taking in information can help provide a sense of control and regulate anxiety. The news can also provide helpful resources in troubling times, such as ways you can help others in a crisis or how to talk to children about difficult topics such as violence, terrorism, or school shootings. Just like most things in life, when it comes to the media, moderation is key. In addition to practicing emotion regulation skills for distress tolerance, you can consider these suggestions to help you stay informed while minimizing anxiety:


Monitor Your News Media Consumption

Every now and again, take a step back from the news and consider how it’s making you feel. There is a fine line between helpful and unhelpful media consumption, and the uncertainty of the situation leaves many of us bobbing in between. To avoid sinking into the trenches of negativity, exercise the following awareness techniques to keep yourself afloat when reading updates:

Notice your mood and the emotions you have in response to the media. Are you feeling stressed and anxious by the information you’re reading? Or is it bringing you a sense of relief?

Listen to your thoughts. Are they saying, “I’ve learned something that will help me” and bringing you some peace of mind? Or are you thoughts saying “this is never going to get better” and causing you more distress?

Reflect on the effect your media consumption has on your mindset. Ask yourself questions to help you assess if reading the news has been having a positive or negative impact on your mental health: How was this helpful to me? Did I learn anything new from this? Am I able to effectively continue with my day?

If your head is feeling full and your responses to the questions above are predominantly negative, it’s probably a good idea to reduce your level of media consumption. It’s important to stay informed, but the key to maintaining a healthy level of media consumption is rationing your intake, and as well as where you access information.


Choose Reliable Sources for Media Consumption

Prioritize the usage of reputable resources, such as newspapers or official news websites. As convenient as social media may be for a quick update, avoid using it as a regular resource. Many of the posts on social media contain misleading, incomplete, or inaccurate information. While social media platforms may try to fact-check these, there is limited quality control to ensure that the content is reliable.


Diversify Your News Sources

It can be helpful to diversify your information intake. Relying solely on one news outlet or type of media can lead to a narrow perspective and potential bias. When we’re exposed to a single narrative, it’s easy to become emotionally entrenched and experience heightened stress, frustration, or even anger. Even while maintaining firm beliefs, exploring sources from different viewpoints or backgrounds will help you gain a more comprehensive understanding of any topic and make more informed decisions related to it. This approach will also foster emotional balance, reducing the risk of developing strong one-sided narratives that can trigger intense emotional responses.


Limit Your News Media Exposure

Be conscious of when you’re accessing media, and set aside a small portion of time during your day for news updates. If early-morning updates put you in a bad mood and make it difficult to complete your normal routine, find a period when you can catch up on information during the day instead. Likewise, try not to access information in the hour before going to sleep for the night. It is important to allow yourself that time in the evening to ease your mind to ensure a good night’s rest.

In addition to only checking the news during specific times, it may help you to limit your exposure to news media altogether. This will look different from person to person, but try to limit the amount of time you spend watching or reading the news to a maximum of 15-30 minutes each day. This may be segmented into blocks throughout the day, or condensed to one period that is convenient for your schedule. It’s also important to designate one or two days a week as “media-free” to give yourself a mental break.


Consider When it May be Time for Therapy

If you find that your news consumption is contributing to increased feelings of anxiety or depression, or if it is interfering with work or family life, it might be time to consider seeing a CBT therapist. CBT helps individuals develop healthier thought patterns and behavioral routines. This means that CBT can help you regain control over your news consumption habits and improve your emotional well-being. By finding a good therapist, you can learn new skills to help cope with the emotional challenges that come along with personal struggles and global conflicts.

Overall, when it comes to media consumption, the goal is to strike a balance between staying informed and not overwhelming yourself in a way that adversely impacts your well-being. We all want answers in uncertain times, but don’t let yourself get swept away by the never-ending stream of updates. When accessed in moderation, media consumption can be part of your routine without compromising other aspects of your life.


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