Watching the News in a Global Crisis: Do’s and Don’ts

Watching the News in a Global Crisis: Do’s and Don’ts

In recent years, the news seems to be getting grimier and grimier. The COVID-19 pandemic brought 24-hours of very worrying and depressive news. On the other hand, the war in Ukraine revived old tensions. On a daily basis, the situation becomes more serious on a global scale. 

As consumers of news, we are in a fascinating situation – thanks to modern technology, we can access new information practically as the events unravel. Unlike any other generation before us, we can stay in touch with the global events everywhere we go: in our beds, on our commute, in our workplaces, and while spending time with our family and friends. 

This is why you should think about how you consume the news and how they can affect you psychologically. In this article, we’ll briefly explain how an endless stream of worrying news can affect you and ultimately make you more anxious and nervous and offer some tips to manage. 

How are we Consuming News?

Each generation has its own way of getting in touch with events worldwide. 30 years ago, people mainly watched TV or read newspapers. The reporting frequency was more or less constrained by the limitations of mediums – namely TV and newspapers.

Today the situation is drastically different. The speed of information increased exponentially. Whereas before you had to wait for a new TV report or for tomorrow’s newspapers, today you can get an update on the global situation with a few clicks or swipes. It’s that easy. 

The ease of accessing new information is not in itself problematic. But in times of global crisis, this can become an issue. Let’s see how:

News on Global Crisis and Productiveness

More and more people notice that it’s becoming increasingly complex for them to focus on work due to the very distressing news coming from Ukraine. Of course, this issue is nowhere near what the Ukrainians are experiencing. However, it still is a problem that has to be addressed.

Because the situation changes practically on an hourly basis, it may be tempting for you to check the main media outlets while at work. This may not be a good idea, just as often checking your social media while at work. 

The information coming from war zones inevitably increases our anxiety levels. Our emotions stir up, and we become absorbed in thinking about the war and its consequences. In turn, these strong emotions might lead to:

  • Increased distractibility – once you attempt to return to work, you find it hard to stop thinking about the distressing news you just saw.
  • Frustration – because you have a hard time getting the job done, you may become angry and frustrated, making it even harder for you to get the job done. 
  • Reduced efficiency and output – the logical conclusion is that you may not be able to do the job as quickly and effectively as before. 
  • Increased negative mood and feelings – as a result of feeling distracted, frustrated and unproductive, a vicious cycle sets in, which maintains a negative mood and can increase anxiety further.

Moreover, news in times of global crisis can increase the intensity of the psychological struggles you are already experiencing. For instance, if you already feel very anxious regularly, chances are that watching a lot of grim news would bring your anxiety to a new level. Similarly, if you are struggling to find your place in the world, feeling down and depressed, it’s likely that focussing too much on the military conflicts that are happening around the world will provide a sort of proof for your depressive feelings, making it even harder for you to cope with negative emotions.  

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Is it okay not to watch the news that much?

If you notice that you are spending too much time thinking about the next global economic crisis or global military conflict, it might be a good idea to reduce your news consumption. This doesn’t mean you should stop it altogether, but a reduction might do good. And this isn’t anything selfish or egoistic – it’s simply a way to preserve your psychological stability.  

Obsessions, compulsions, and news checking

Sometimes the way some people consume news may resemble some of the signs of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This is, for instance, when you have a strong (and perhaps intrusive) desire to check the news on your smartphone or when you’re constantly thinking about what happens around the globe, to the point of completely ignoring other topics. 

However, the way OCD usually manifests doesn’t involve obsessive and compulsive news-watching. It will more likely include more individual-specific actions (e.g. arranging the cables in the house before leaving) or actions generally known in OCD (e.g. compulsive hand-washing).

So even if you are feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the endless stream of news without being able to stop consuming them, don’t worry. Chances are that you simply have an unhelpful habit that can be changed. If you’d like to discuss this with a mental health professional, contact us for a free 15-minute consultation.  

How to control your news input?

Provided that most of us access the global (and local) events via our smartphones, controlling the way you consume news is basically the same as managing your smartphone use:

  • Only use your phone when you really need it (e.g., don’t simply check your phone every now and then. Try to unlock your screen when you have a clear idea about what you’re going to do).
  • You search the Internet. Don’t let the Internet over-recommend things to you (e.g. start searching with a clear goal in mind – don’t let browsers impose their content on you).
  • Moderation and Agency – back in the day, the TV report ended, and the newspapers had a fixed amount of pages. Now you can spend the whole day watching the news online without even scratching the surface. Try limiting your time dedicated to the news and choose when to access it (e.g. 10 minutes in the morning and 10 in the evening). This is a common and effective technique used to manage uncontrollable worries in GAD therapy (Generalised Anxiety Disorder)
  • Turn the notifications off – news websites often send you notifications whenever something happens. You’d really want to avoid this, especially since you already must have a lot of notifications that you’re less likely to turn off (i.e. social networks).

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Coping with News-induced Negative Emotions

There are also many ways to counteract the negative emotions triggered by news of a global crisis:

  • Find some positive or ‘lighter’ news. Fortunately, there is also a lot of positive news coming from all around the world, which is perhaps ignored when in times of global crisis (e.g. finding out about a new way to battle climate change).
  • Embrace silence and calm – for instance, you might tend to leave the TV on even though you’re not really watching it. Leave a few moments for yourself each day when you practically do nothing and just spend time in your own company. This will help you regain your composure after experiencing strong and negative emotions (related to global crisis news). You can achieve this via meditation, mindfulness, yoga, sports, or relaxation techniques. 
  • Access your support network. There are few things more helpful than reaching out to a loved one in times of emotional turmoil, including after reading horrifying and worrying news. Expressing your emotions with someone you trust will likely bring you a sense of validation, understanding and balance.

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We live in a fast-changing world in which everything is interconnected. Understandably, many of us want to stay in touch with global events as much as possible. But this can sometimes be detrimental. Fortunately, there are many ways for you to control your news input and its impact, most of which boil down to managing your smartphone use and making sure to practice self-care.

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