Can the News Adversely Affect Health?
Jul 27, 2015 07:13PM
● By MARSHA R. SAKAMAKI
Many Americans believe that paying attention to both local and worldwide news is an obligation of citizenship. How do we vote fairly if we are unaware of events?
Nobody needs to tell us that news coverage can be downright depressing and anxiety provoking. The philosophy that controls many media organizations has been quoted for decades. Namely, “If it bleeds, it leads.” The idea is to draw in readers, listeners and viewers with disturbing and shocking headlines, sound bites and footage that generate emotional reactions. The May issue of Mind, Mood & Memory from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)—Harvard Medical School’s premier teaching hospital—features an article about the effects of this type of skewed news reporting.
Can keeping up with local, national and international events take a psychological toll? According to the article, the answer is yes. It recommends ways to recognize when news coverage is causing distress and suggests making it a habit of walking away.
A doctor of psychotherapy research at MGH notes, “Modern news coverage sometimes focuses on violent, shocking or disturbing content that is intended to attract attention and generate an emotional reaction in the audience.” Research suggests that this disturbing coverage can cause tension and anxiety for many news consumers. In a large study conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation last year, one-quarter of the 825 respondents that reported experiencing a great deal of stress in the past month said that reading, watching or listening to the news was one of their biggest daily stressors.
Another study was done after the Boston bombing concerning news-related stress. The conclusion was that “people who exposed themselves to six or more hours of media daily actually reported more symptoms than people who were directly exposed to the bombings.” The article notes that news coverage is designed to be more exciting than informative. It also incites fear, anxiety and cynicism.
Most news editors and producers are judged by their ratings or circulation. The issue is often whether they are providing an evenhanded view of reality. Other research has tied heavy news consumption to greater risk for feelings of hopelessness, frustration, anger, depression, anxiety and pessimism.
The research doctor at MGH suggests that we:
- Lead a well-balanced life; get our news from a variety of sources.
- Focus on things we can control.
- Walk away from news topics that are upsetting.
- Utilize Internet sources that focus on upbeat news.
- Learn relaxation techniques to reduce stress levels.
- Look for large-circulation national newspapers and magazines that do in-depth reporting.
Life provides us with many stressors that are beyond our control, but we can control news consumption. We can be conscious of when news is causing us stress, and choose to stop and do something else.
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