Want to Help Reduce Stress? Turn Off the News.

As I was riding to work recently I was listening to National Public Radio (NPR) who just started their “Stressed Out” series.  They were sharing the results of a recently released poll that they conducted with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. The survey of more than 2,500 Americans found that about 1 in 4 said they had experienced a “great deal” of stress in the previous month. The respondents indicated one of the biggest contributors to their day-to-day stress was watching, reading, or listening to the news.

Time spent sitting with too much screen time is not good for you (see my sitting article), made even worse if it involves watching images following traumatic events like the many we have witnessed over the years.  We now have more news available to us streaming on outlets and online – looking to fill time – many of them 24 hours a day.  All of these channels are looking to be more “newsworthy” than the other.  It’s human nature to want to tune-in when there is something that may be a threat to our own personal safety, but tuning in for too long can bring on stress.  A study following the Boston Marathon bombings found that people who exposed themselves to six or more hours of media daily following the event actually reported more acute stress symptoms than did people who were directly exposed.  Repeatedly being exposed to the same violent image or clip can be traumatic.

I have encouraged students in my wellness courses to set goals to improve well-being.  When they struggle to come up with any, I often suggest something simple:  minimize or cut-out any unnecessary screen time for the very reasons mentioned.  I personally quit watching the news in 2008.  I did so because I have young children and it never occurred to me just how negative (and sometimes down right traumatic) the news was until I was compelled to keep it away from my children.  It’s hard to explain to a 3-year-old what murder is or why someone would want to place bomb somewhere to hurt others.  Unfortunately these things have become a social norm. We witness these things daily through the media, which can desensitize us to it.  I can’t believe what a difference it has made.  I now set up my free email login (provided by a “news” outlet) to access it directly so that I bypass the home page of the “news” that I usually would come in contact with before logging in.  I have noticed over the last 6 months that my social media stream is now full of these headlines so this is another place that we can examine and see how much time is not only spent on social media but examine the kind of tone of the information.

I guess everyone can define “news” differently but somehow I manage to find out about the things I need to know to survive each day without the clutter or negativity.  I would encourage you to personally consider cutting back on your “news”, as well as possibly suggest this approach to those who you work with who are trying to mitigate stress in their lives.  It’s an easy strategy that might help!


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