Reading the news can be stress-inducing at the best of times. When the news is particularly worrying, many of us experience levels of anxiety so high that we can have difficulty coping. So how can we stay (reasonably) anxiety-free when the media bombards us with headlines that spook us?
It may seem as though we have entered an age of bad news. Every day for the past few years, newspapers and news websites have turned out stressful headlines full-blast.
There is news about wars and civic unrest, impending ecological disasters, failing economies, and violent, sad local events.
And — why not admit it? — though we aim to provide our readers with constructive, actionable content at Medical News Today, we, too, sometimes end up highlighting news that could be stressful.
While our intent is positive, to warn our readers about possible health dangers and empower our audience to avoid them, our content may sometimes lead to worry and anxiety.
So what can you do if what seems like a constant cycle of negative news throughout every media outlet is getting you down and interfering with your well-being?
In this Special Feature, we look at some tips for coping with the special kind of anxiety that can come from reading the news.
‘Headline stress disorder’?
While news cycle-related anxiety has probably existed for centuries, it became particularly obvious in 2016, a year packed with global events that polarized communities.
When people started reporting tension and anxiety that stemmed from feeling bombarded by alarming news headlines, some therapists came to describe this as its own phenomenon.
For example, therapist Steven Stosny, Ph.D., refers to it as “headline stress disorder” in an opinion piece for The Washington Post. He describes his personal experience with clients in whom the grueling news cycle triggered intense feelings of worry and helplessness, and he reports that this particularly affected female clients.
Stosny’s observations may be spot-on. According to a study from 2012Trusted Source, women are better than men at remembering negative news for longer periods. They also have more persistent physiological reactions to the stress caused by such news, the study’s authors conclude.
“Many feel personally devalued, rejected, unseen, unheard, and unsafe. They report a sense of foreboding and mistrust about the future,” Stosny writes.
A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that between August 2016 and January 2017, people in the United States reported an overall average stress level increase from 4.8 to 5.1 on a scale where 1 means little or no stress and 10 means an extremely high level of stress.
According to the researchers, this was the first notable increase in average stress levels in the decade since the association first started conducting these surveys.
The APA’s 2019 report on stress levels in the U.S. population did not find much of a difference compared with past years, except in one respect: Respondents said that they felt distinctly more anxiety about specific topics.
According to the most recent poll data from the report, adults in the U.S. experienced the highest amounts of stress about politics, healthcare, and mass shootings.
Meanwhile, climate change and sexual harassment — other topics frequently covered in the news — also caused significantly more stress in 2019 than in 2018.
Take a break from the news
When faced with anxiety about what feels like a constant cycle of negative news, the best approach may be to step away and take a break from these reports, at least for a while.
For some, the anger, hopelessness, and feeling of powerlessness that can stem from sustained exposure to stressful news can really stand in the way of being productive on a day-to-day basis.
Focus on what you can solve
Instead of, or as well as, unplugging from the news, one way of coping with news-related anxiety is to focus on issues that you can help solve.
Negative world news, regarding acts of violence or the impact of a devastating hurricane, for example, can make people feel powerless and defeated.
Search for positive news roundups
When it feels as though a barrage of bad news can reach us all too easily, we sometimes need to make an effort to find positive news. This can help counteract news-related anxiety.
While we may feel that it is our responsibility to understand what is going wrong in the world so that we can find a way to fix it, it is also very important to find out what is going well so that we feel motivated, hopeful, and uplifted.