I am a news junkie. I’ve been a consumer of information about what’s happening in the world around me for as long as I can remember. I grew up watching my grandmother read the daily newspaper from front to back with methodical precision. We were surrounded by news magazines as children, and each day’s end was punctuated almost without fail, with our father absorbing the ten o’clock news. I have professional experience as a reporter, and this career slowly evolved into public relations work, as I found myself fascinated with the process of how news is generated and delivered.
I still read news from several national newspapers and magazines, watch a wide variety of news formats on television, see headlines as I scroll through social media, listen intently to news-driven podcasts and treat myself to online subscriptions of national news outlets. I pride myself on being informed, but during the last several months, I’ve learned something: it’s too much.
Between updates on the pandemic, dismal economic forecasts, political divisiveness and widespread unrest that seems to have everyone rearing for an argument, I’ve learned that for my own mental health, I have to be very mindful about the who, what, why, where, when and how I allow myself to scan the latest headlines.
- Who are the news sources I’m going to rely upon for factual reporting of what’s really happening on the world stage at any given time? I tend to turn to several reputable, national and international sources to get the facts, and usually, so that I’m not operating in an echo chamber, I’ve been known to tune into cable news on both ends of the ideological spectrum, just to keep my assumptions and biases in check. It’s important to make an effort to be familiar with what motivates how “the other side” thinks. But I’ve identified a handful of pundits on whom I can count on to say things that are so triggering that I’ll fly into an indignant, unhealthy rage. I steer clear of these folks for my own precious mental health and well-being.
- What kind of news should I consume? Politics is a go-to area of interest for me, and I often find myself scanning for anything involving this topic. I’m also concerned about all social justice issues and anything related to mental health advocacy. During these challenging times, I’ve been intentional about reading other things as well: high-quality op ed pieces, investigative stories, features, history, even sports here and there. I do this because it’s important and healthy to give my brain something fresh to process and ponder.
- Why am I looking for news? During the first few months of COVID, unable to venture far from home, I confess that I did consume news at an almost frenetic pace. I would often turn to it to cure boredom, and would find myself click-baiting through story after story for hours at a time. The result was heightened anxiety and information overload. Now I approach the news with a little more purpose, looking for specific developments upon which I want to stay abreast. It’s much better to come at the news with the purpose of being informed, not looking for the next fight or thing to fixate upon. I also keep in mind that I’m looking for information so that I can conduct myself responsibly, keep my family and others safe, and make decisions that align with my values and the impact I want to have in the world.
- Where and when will I consume news? As I lump these two together, it’s in full confessional mode. For the longest, and most unhealthy time, I was guilty of reading and/or watching the news at two of the worst times of day from an absolutely toxic location: right before I tried to fall asleep or first thing in the morning, FROM MY BED. The night-time consumption of troubling, blood-boiling news did nothing for my insomnia and left me tossing and turning for hours to cool down and let my brain try to salvage at least a little rapid eye movement before morning. And starting one’s day in a rage isn’t the best option either. I’m finding that noon is the optimal time for me to bring myself up to speed, and still have adequate time to process any emotions or anxieties that emerge as a result before I’m trying to sleep.
- How should I consume the news? As much as I appreciate the convenience of my smart phone, for me, catching the news with this device is a trap. It’s too convenient, and if not kept in check, can quickly turn into a steady drip of trigger points. I’m also working hard to not count on news through social media. For one thing, it’s not always reliable, and the potential for getting into unnecessary arguments with strangers is just too great. There is no point in this kind of exchange. It’s not healthy for anyone, and it’s only deepening the divide. This is challenging for me, so it’s a decision I have to make every time I’m on Facebook, but I’m always glad when I’ve shown restraint. If I do feel the urge to have a side dialogue with someone who has different views than my own, I think it’s better to take the conversation into a private message forum, or if it’s someone I know and care about, let it go. Not everything needs my response. I’ve found the more I do this, the better I feel.
About the Author
Anne Shaw Heinrich is the Vice President of Development for Mental Health America of Eastern Missouri. She and her husband, Bret, have three children, and live in Kirkwood, MO.