News Overload Is Killing Us
Even journalists sometimes have to ditch the 24–7 news cycle
From Covid-19 and a high-stakes presidential election to domestic terrorism and reckoning with racial injustice, it seems harder than ever to stay informed while also staying emotionally intact. These uncertainties have made the world more on edge and less hopeful. It’s easy to get sucked into the news cycle for extended periods because there is so much happening and so much we need to know.
News overload is taking a toll on us. Studies show that negative news can impact our emotional state, causing anxiety, stress, fear, irritability, and general unhappiness. Personal relevance impacts how deeply we become engaged with a story, how we evaluate it, and the degree to which a news story affects us. That’s why I took a media break. Though it was difficult, it was the best thing I could do for my mental health.
“When uncertainty is high, it generates a lot of anxiety, which drives our brains to seek as much information as possible to feel more in control,” says Jacqueline Bullis, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and researcher at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School. But the fact is that people can’t control news-making events, and this in turn can create more stress.
When George Floyd died in May, it took me a week before I mustered the strength to watch his death — once. My emotional reaction was worse than I could’ve imagined. As a journalist, I’ve seen my share of disturbing news. I felt overcome with despair, watching a man die at the hands of a police officer kneeling callously on his neck. That wasn’t the first, but it is the last video of police killing a Black person I can stomach this year.
I watched the pandemic analysis — and up to the moment infection chart — on TV and read the avalanche of related reports as the daily Covid-19 death toll climbed. But within weeks of the pandemic’s inception, I decided to stop viewing or discussing any Covid-19 news one day a week to protect my psyche.
Arriving at this point wasn’t easy. I used to watch or read the news incessantly. It took great discipline to break my addiction to information, and I still struggle.