For many of us, part of our routine is getting a daily dose of news in the morning. Going to work without checking in on the rest of the world may make our day feel incomplete. Most of us read our news on a smartphone or tablet or watch it on television. Social media has certainly helped us as our primary, secondary, and/or tertiary source of news. It’s become difficult to avoid and can leave us feeling disconnected if we don’t get access to it at various intervals of the day.
The news has now become omnipresent. Everywhere we look, we just can’t seem to shake it off – and we love it. We love reading about the stuff happening all around us even if it’s depressing or scary. Heck, if the world were to end today, you’d still look forward to reading about it tomorrow, right?
The truth is we have become addicted to the news. Just like with our smartphones, social media, and the internet, we are obsessed with it. It’s the latest form of digital addiction. In the words of The Telegraph’s Chris Moss, “We’ve all become addicted to the drug of news.”
But why is that? Why do we still continue to read the news even if it’s depressing, unappealing, or downright terrifying? Ethan Kross, a psychologist at the University of Michigan calls this the new FOMO – the fear of missing out – which stems from our primitive need to belong. But this time, it’s something new.
Because this news addiction type of FOMO is a relatively new phenomenon, no real study has been conducted to go deeper into the issue – but it’s there and it’s real. Experts can agree on one thing: it stems from a primitive behavioral instinct that humans have. This instinct is surveillance gratification-seeking, which means that in times of a perceived crisis, we just can’t help but poke our heads into it. We want to know what we’re dealing with to help us survive.
If our news addiction is deeply-rooted in our survival instincts, why is it a big deal? As it turns out, it’s a big deal for plenty of reasons. In fact, too much bad news can actually make you sick. Psychotherapist Susanne Babbel believes being constantly exposed to bad news can severely alter our ability to cope with stress, which hinders our body’s ability to return to a point of relaxation.
There are many mental health effects linked to this new form of digital addiction. These risks include:
Just like other forms of digital addiction, it can be difficult to break free from our new digital drug. But it’s not impossible. In order to free your mind from the various mental health effects of news addiction, here are some ways to help break the cycle of addictive news.
It’s time to be proactive on when you want to receive the news. This means turning off all notifications coming from your daily news source.
When you subscribe to 17 different news outlets, you gain access to unlimited news content. That also means you are constantly feeding your addiction for more news. Review your email settings and unsubscribe from all those news sources. Instead, subscribe to one or two news aggregators so they show you only the top headlines of the day.
Set a schedule for your daily intake of news. Create rules for yourself as to how much time you’ll spend reading up on the day’s biggest news and for what specific time of day you will be doing so.
If you are already quite familiar with how the news can affect your mood, then carefully plan out the time of day for when you will be doing your reading. For instance, if you’re only interested in the day’s biggest headlines but you know that it can get you in a bad mood, then it might not be the way to start your day.
Sometimes, it’s a good idea to not be on top of things all the time. In this case, in order to break the cycle of addiction, it might be more helpful if you are a little late to the scene. This way, you get to see the full picture of an event at once rather than only getting bits and pieces from time-to-time, which can build anxiety.
Steer clear of fake news that is only meant to draw up strong emotions. More often than not, fake news can only rouse negative emotions from you. That is why you should only consume news from reputable sources such as The New York Times, CNN, BCC, The Washington Post, and National Public Radio, among others.
Speaking of FOMO, reassure yourself that it is okay to miss out sometimes. In fact, it’s even more beneficial for the sake of your mental health to not be informed about all the goings-on in the world. You don’t have to know about every little detail about what the President is doing or the earthquake that rocked a remote island in the middle of the Pacific. Only read up on things that you care about – those that interest you. That way, you free yourself from all the negative emotions.