6 Strategies to Reduce Anxiety From News Headlines

Self-care in the time of an "infodemic" is ever pressing.

Posted Jun 15, 2020

Source: Pixabay

If you’re feeling more stressed from reading the news, you’re not alone. In a February 2020 report on the novel coronavirus, the World Health organization coined the term “infodemic” or “an overabundance of information—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.”

The infodemic of 2020 followed by the horrifying news of systemic racial injustices have caused many to feel overwhelmed and stressed from the news. Feelings range from fear, anxiety, and uncertainty, to powerlessness, anger, and frustration. This mixture of feelings can provoke anxiety and unmoor even the most even-keeled and resilient. One therapist a few years ago labeled this issue "headline stress disorder."

While it is very important to stay informed and link to reliable educational resources during this time, it is also wise to take some precautions for self-care when following the news. If you’re finding yourself exhausted, fatigued, anxious, irritable, or overwhelmed after reading the news or browsing social media these days, it can be useful to consider these strategies.

1. Take more precautions if you’re a millennial or Gen Zer. Don't forget self-care.

This might be counterintuitive. One might think that the generations who grew up with the Internet are more immune to news consumption, but recent studies have found the opposite is true.

Millennials and Gen Zers are the most likely generations to feel stressed from the news. In the APA study from August 2016 to January 2017, around three in five Gen Z adults and millennials felt like they wanted to stay informed of the news but that it caused them stress. More than half of Gen Zers and half of boomers expressed similar stress. Only one-third of older adults reported stress from the news. 

2. Unplug consciously throughout the dayschedule these times and do something calming instead. 

Working from home and social distancing have already caused an uptick in our screen time, so it's essential to schedule in times to unplug. Your body will often be a strong indicator if you're stressed, so if you're feeling tense or experiencing more body aches like headaches, make sure to take breaks. 

  • Consider disabling non-urgent notifications from apps that might interrupt or distract you with news or updates. 
  • Designate times throughout the day to be away from screens. Write these times down in order to remind yourself and keep yourself accountable to a routine schedule.
  • Make a list of other non-news activities you can do during those periods: take a hot relaxing shower or bath, exercise, take a long walk, or draw, collage, or read a book or magazine. Deep breathing, yoga, and meditation have all been found to decrease stress. 

3. Assign specific times of day and time limits to reading or watching the news. Avoid reading the news at bedtime and do something fun and rewarding instead.

This might be hard to do at first, so consider tapering the news gradually. Try to keep these boundaries in place and find alternative activities that are you enjoy instead, such as listening to music or playing board games.

Reading or watching the news before bedtime can be tempting but this has many downsides. reading the news at night increases nighttime anxiety, exposes your eyes to the activating blue light of the TV or smartphone screen, which will keep you awake, and risks infiltrating your dreams with negativity and worry, preventing deep sleep. 

4. Avoid social media as the main source of news. Choose your news sources and how it gets delivered to you carefully.

Social media apps are designed to keep users on the apps as much as possible. Online news consumption can be addictive on social media apps like Twitter and Instagram, which use infinite scrolling. Platforms like YouTube are known to use algorithms that continue to recommend similar videos with the same viewpoints, leading to what’s been called a filter bubble. 

  • If social media apps are your main source of news, consider switching to news aggregators, newsletters, or digests, or daily podcasts that summarize the news. Curated news digests are often emailed once daily or at a frequency that you have control over.
  • Find formats that provide you with a more efficient, less frequent, and disruptive way to stay up-to-date.

5. Mute or unfollow people who tend to share traumatic, inflammatory, unhelpful, or unreliable information or opinions.

Some news can be triggering or traumatic with violent, inflammatory, or otherwise traumatic content, so it is important to configure their news source in a way that prevents such news from ending up in your feed. People may tend to share news or post content that is provocative or harmful. Don't forget that you have the ability to mute or unfollow people who could be potentially triggering or consistently harmful or negative in what they share or post.

6. Focus on positive things that you can do. 

Reading and watching the news has made many people feel helpless, powerless, and a sense of a lack of control over the situation. Remember that our minds experience a known bias toward holding onto negative information (negativity bias), so don't be hard on yourself if you're feeling stressed when so much of the news headlines are negative. You can combat news exhaustion by outlining all the positive, helpful things that you can do to make a difference. 

There is no better antidote to a sense of powerlessness than being able to do something generous and giving for your family, friends, coworkers, and community-- and, very importantly, to yourself as well. It is always all right and a good option to offer yourself self-compassion and self-care that you need and deserve. 

Marlynn Wei, M.D. © 2020.