How stressed are you about what’s happening right now?
Are you freaking out?
Are you mildly anxious?
Or, are you relatively calm?
I’m willing to bet that your state of mind is directly related to how much news you consume.
When television first arrived on South African shores in the mid-seventies, the news graced our screens twice during the course of the evening.
The shorter 6 pm bulletin offered a brief overview of the day’s headlines, while the lengthier half-hour edition at eight provided a more detailed account of what was happening.
Compared to the 24/7 barrage of information we’ve been conditioned to expect nowadays, we were positively uninformed back then.
Or were we?
When you think about, there isn’t actually that much ‘new’ news on a daily basis. It’s simply the news networks regurgitating the same clips for hours (and sometimes days and weeks) on end.
The negative effects of this are far-reaching. Take, for example, this study conducted at the University of California after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
Scientists found that people who followed media coverage of the event for long enough had a greater chance of suffering from symptoms of high acute stress, sometimes even more so than those who were present at the site.
The main reason for this is that exposure through the media rather than in real life meant people were being subjected to the same violent images over and over again.
That alone is reason enough to curb our intake. But given all that’s going on in the world right now, a news fast is probably the sanest thing we could do. First, let’s look at how watching bad news affects us.
Watching Bad News Is Detrimental to Our Overall Wellbeing
The short of it is that bingeing on bad news fuels daily stress levels. One study found that of the 2,500 Americans surveyed, 1 in 4 admitted experiencing a marked increase in stress as a result of watching, reading or listening to the news.
As someone who has been studying stress and the media since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, Mary McNaughton-Cassill, a psychologist at the University of Texas at San Antonio, is under no illusion as to the direct correlation between the two.
Not surprisingly, traumatic events covered in a sensationalist way cause the most harm. They’re also tough to avoid. As McNaughton-Cassill says, with so much more news available, and so many different channels vying for airtime, everyone is trying harder to be sensational.
The growing prevalence of disturbing images is another factor, claims McNaughton-Cassill. With reporters on the ground in every major centre, the time it takes for news to reach us is almost instantaneous. “It’s as if we’re right there when the bomb hits,” she says.
The Many Benefits of a News Fast
What even is a news fast? Essentially you’re opting out of the news in all its various formats, from television and radio to the newspaper and online for a certain period of time. It could be a day, a week or even a month.
The better at it you get, the longer you’ll go.
Managing the stress reactions from watching the news can be tricky. Given our brain’s predilection for bad news, it’s imperative that we filter our input accordingly. After all, how we perceive the world depends on the information we allow into our space.
According to the Guardian, quitting the news temporarily will make you happier and rekindle your creativity. Dr Andrew Weil, author of 8 Weeks to Optimum Health, is of a similar opinion.
“When you’re on a news fast, you should observe a difference in your state of mind and body. You are likely to be less anxious, less stressed, less angry, and less fearful,” says Weil.
How to Stay Abreast Without Getting Caught up in the Negativity
Although a huge advocate of news fasts, Dr Weil says he has no objection to turning on the news occasionally for the information you really need. He claims the need for concern arises when people turn it on compulsively or unconsciously.
If that sounds like you then perhaps the most significant thing you can do right now is limit the amount of news you take in on a daily basis. For the very addicted, even the idea of this could induce sweaty palms.
Start by only allowing ‘news time’ for an hour a day, preferably not first thing in the morning or after six in the evening. Opt to read the news, rather than watch it on television. By reading it, you won’t get caught up in the sensationalist hype and you’ll only be exposed to the news once.
Yes, you could read the article again, but you probably won’t.
Make sure to follow Robin Sharma’s advice and have a purpose in mind before you start reading the paper. “Use it as an information tool to serve you and to make you wiser rather than as an excuse to help you pass time,” says Sharma.
Determine which news source offers the most objective coverage and only read that one. Finally, avoid at all costs consuming news via social media, which is full of hyperbole in addition to the usual lashings of negativity.
Sporty and I are staunch anti-news activists, however even we realise the importance of staying abreast right now.
This is not the time for our usual hippie approach.
We settled on getting our information from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Western Cape Government. Along with getting accurate and up to date information, it’s allowed us to avoid becoming unduly stressed because everything is delivered in a manner that’s objective and devoid of sensationalism.
What to Do Instead of Watching the News
The suggestions below are just that, suggestions. If they spark an interest, great, but really, my intention is to encourage you away from the 24-hour news cycle and towards some something more positive.
There are a million things you can do right now. If reading or doing some introspection don’t appeal to you, then find something that does. Perhaps you’ve been meaning to up your skillset in a specific area or learn a new language or start painting again.
Whatever it is, go do that. However, if you’re at a loss for ideas, why not try one of the suggestions below? You never know, you might even have fun.
1. Turn off the TV and Pick up a Book
The average American spends more time watching TV than they do reading. Since we already know books are better for you, what better time to rediscover the joy of immersing yourself in a well-written novel or memoir?
2. Start Spreading the Good News
Look for good news and spread it like wildfire. Be the antidote to the negativity that’s out there. Things are tough right now, but humans everywhere are stepping up to make a difference in their community.
While you’re at it, look around your own community and see how you can make a difference there. If you’re able to go out, volunteering has amazing benefits for the giver as well as the receiver.
3. Use the Time to Get to Know Yourself
We all know that happiness is an inside job, but that’s easier said than done when you’re not inclined to go within. Look, it’s not always fun, but it’s definitely worth the effort to figure what makes you tick.
How do you feel about yourself? What self-limiting beliefs do you have? Where do you find comfort when the going gets tough?
Take the VIA Character Strengths survey to discover what your greatest strengths are and learn how to apply them in your everyday life.
Find out what your love language is and see how you can use the knowledge to improve your relationships.
You could even calculate your name with numerology. Since we don’t receive our name by accident, unpacking what it means could offer some insight into your personality.
4. Learn to Juggle (Clowning Around Optional)
Juggling is more than a fun party trick. Research has shown that juggling improves your brain’s power. It also relieves stress, fights off Alzheimer’s disease, sharpens concentration, increases dexterity, wards off food cravings, and can even help you stop smoking.
Once you understand the basics, honing the art of tossing three balls around without dropping any of them boils down to practice. Fortunately, you’ve got the time to do that right now.
If you don’t have juggling balls, you could use lemons or oranges or make some out of balloons and birdseed. A red nose might be a nice addiction?
5. Meditate, Meditate, Meditate
Meditation has a number of science-based benefits. Among other things, it can reduce stress, lengthen your attention span, generate kindness and improve your sleep.
Meditating is a good habit to instil when life is going well. In times like these, it’s essential. Most people assume that meditating is hard to master or that only the enlightened few can do it.
Some Final Thoughts on News Fasting
News information overload is real, avoiding it means avoiding the stress and overwhelm that invariably follows. There are so many reasons to go on a news fast right now but by far the most important one is your health.
Stress can have severe implications for your mental and physical wellbeing. You need to focus on staying healthy by eating right and exercising, but also by safeguarding your mental health.
Imagine feeling calm and relaxed throughout the day.
Imagine enjoying a good night’s sleep and waking up feeling rested and refreshed.
Imagine feeling confident that you’re doing what it takes to stay healthy.
Challenge yourself to 30-day news fast and you won’t have to imagine, because those things will be a reality.
Best all, it won’t take 30 days to reap the benefits of protecting yourself from the negative energy that comes with consuming too much news. You’ll start noticing a difference within a week.
Remember, I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t stay abreast. What I am saying is that you get your information from reputable, objective sources and only read enough to get the facts.
This is not the time to go down an Interwebs rabbit hole.
Try one of the things I suggested. If none of them appeals to you, then find something that does.
You’ve got this.
And if you feel like you don’t, leave a comment and we’ll do our best to help you figure things out.