It’s crucial to stay informed in a time of crisis. But can too much news be damaging?
It depends on the type of news.
The 24-hour news cycle we have now does not let up. All day and night we’re barraged with stories of conflict between state and federal governments over supplies and funding. Competing, unproven scientific claims are reported, without much fact checking, the minute they’re made.
Covid-19 has captured the news cycle. The high levels of stress news consumption can cause will affect viewers for years.
You need to know what’s going on, so burying your head in the sand is not an option. Worse than too much news is rumor and conjecture, and these happen in the absence of verifiable facts and careful reporting.
Past crises illustrate the need for reliable updates. Stories about school shootings, when first reported, are often filled with projections and misinformation. While a story is developing, the media often jump to conclusions rather than honestly reporting that right now we just don’t know. Stress and panic disorders spike. The same thing happened after 9/11.
It’s happening again now with the new coronavirus.
Resulting health problems can be extreme. Increase levels of PTSD and heart disease are reported for 2 – 3 years following a major crisis among not only the people directly affected by the crisis, but by people who watched stories, especially graphic stories, on TV about the event.
Following the Boston Marathon bombing there were more incidents of stress-related illness among people who watched non-stop coverage on TV than there were among people who were actually on-site at the bombing.
It’s the nature of the media to over-report and to sensationalize stories. It keeps us tuned in. Think silly reporters standing on a beach in driving rain during a hurricane and you’ll know what I mean. More than the storm, most of us get pummeled by repetitive information.
On the other hand, in a crisis you need good information to make good decisions. During the current pandemic there can’t be enough stories about washing your hands or disinfecting surfaces. Updates from public health authorities like the CDC help us manage.
But the constant bickering about who’s in charge and how terrible the numbers are going to be next week gets to be just too much.
Worse than that, graphic images and early reports that are later contradicted by emerging facts take a brutal toll on the nation’s mental health.
This results in a kind of Goldilocks problem. How much news is just right?
Think of your own consumption habits. Think about how you feel while watching or reading news. Are you getting more new, usable information? Good. Are you getting upset over a politician’s ranting at a press briefing? Bad. Turn it off.
Images are the news item to be most careful of. In past crises the news consumers who’s mental health was most negatively impacted were one’s who watched repeated, distressing images.
Read your news instead of watching it. It’s safer.
Be careful of outrageous claims on social media. Stick to sources that report fact, not opinion, and declare recognizable, verifiable names on the by-line. Cross reference new actionable information across a couple of news sources to be sure it’s true.
Then go for a walk or get back to a hobby or set up a Zoom meeting with friends or family. It’s much safer than watching TV.
The coronavirus crisis is unique. When you consider the economic effects as well as the health effects, it impacts all of us. Anxiety levels are high, as they should be when we’re all threatened.
We must be careful not to influence that anxiety by doing things that will aggravate it.
So practice social distancing, wash your hands frequently, wear a mask in public, and turn off the TV. All will help you avoid getting sick from Covid-19.
For updates on my upcoming book Handling Anxiety in a Time of Crisis, join the Facebook group Practicing Mental Illness.
Source for article: https://psycnet.apa.org/fulltext/2020-20168-001.html