Violence, sensationalism, conflict and fear-mongering have always dominated the nightly news. But recently, coverage of the attacks in Paris, Orlando, and Nice have shown something we’ve never seen before: a world paralyzed by terror. As the death tolls rise, people everywhere have been left depressed and desensitized by the heart-wrenching carnage, leading some to turn off the news off altogether. This growing trend begs the question: wouldn’t we all be happier if we stopped watching the news?
A recent study proved that repeated exposure to terrorism coverage causes anxiety. Researchers from UCLA found that people who binge-watched news coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings felt more anxious than those who were actually at the horrific event. “People who exposed themselves to six or more hours of media daily actually reported more acute stress symptoms than did people who were directly exposed — meaning they were at the site of the bombings,” says professor Alison Holman of the University of California, Irvine.
Researchers have discovered a physical reason why continuous exposure to horrific news events hurts us as well. Anxiety-inducing news stories trigger the release of glucocorticoid (cortisol) which puts you in a state of heightened stress, impairing cell, bone, and hair growth and leaving you more susceptible to infections. “Negative news can significantly change an individual’s mood — especially if there is a tendency in the news broadcasts to emphasize suffering and also the emotional components of the story,” British psychologist and media-violence expert Dr. Graham Davey told The Huffington Post. “Viewing negative news means that you’re likely to see your own personal worries as more threatening and severe, and when you do start worrying about them, you’re more likely to find your worry difficult to control and more distressing than it would normally be.”
Giving up the Fox News Channel and stopping your subscription to USA Today may reduce your stress levels, but it comes with a price. Although the news only presents us with a small kernel of reality it is important—especially in a democracy—to be informed about current events. The news also helps us stay connected with others in our communities, broadens our worldviews, and increases our empathy with the victims of these horrific acts. So is there a way to prevent ourselves from the avalanche of fear while remaining an informed global citizen? We can start by changing the type of news we watch, listen, and read.
We can live happier lives without being totally news abstinent by avoiding the sensationalist news that’s been created by advertisers, politicians, and major media corporations. Instead of being consumed by the media we can be better consumers of news by tuning into more serious, sober news outlets such as PBS, National Public Radio, or the BBC. These outlets present factual information without the pulse-raising BREAKING NEWS banners and the deluge of horrific images. Opting out of the 24-hour news cycle on the big three cable networks (Fox, MSNBC, CNN) also provides more time to read and delve deeper into world issues. Turning off the news doesn’t mean we turn our backs to the world, it’s an opportunity to tune into what’s truly important.