The News – and our Mental Health

Alexus Lee, M.A., Licensed Professional Counselor

The internet has become an integral part of our lives. Though this has many advantages such as lightning-speed access to information and being able to connect with others across the world, it does seem to be having a significant negative impact on our collective mental health. These negative consequences are directly related to this ease of access to information and connection. Social media provides us with 24-hour, non-stop news coverage from around the world. The smartphone makes this media ubiquitous and inescapable for most people.

Research shows that since the 1990’s the news has taken an increasingly negative tone. News is also more visual now, filled with user generated images and videos often of traumatic events. News stations are in competition with other TV programs and social media, so they are incentivized to present news in the most dramatic and shocking way possible to get more views. The simple exposure to this explicit coverage of traumatic events can produce PTSD symptoms in some viewers. Evolutionary, we are wired to screen for danger in attempts to avoid it. So, when presented with distressing news we may feel compelled to stay informed and up to date on these significant issues to feel more aware and more prepared. Yet, this over exposure to bad news can actually make our personal worries seem worse and cause acute stress.  The distress and worry only predicts more media consumption that leads to more stress.  This cycle leaves us feeling stressed out, anxious, depressed and sometimes hopeless about our circumstances. That’s why it is so important for us to find a healthy balance of staying informed and disconnecting from the never-ending cycle of bad news.
5 Tips to finding balance:
  1. Only check the news once a day: Designate an hour a day to stay informed. Avoid reading the news as soon as you wake up or right before bed because it can paint your day negatively and disrupt your sleep
  2. Read full articles not just headlines: Headlines are intentionally dramatized and potentially misleading when taken out of context. When a headline catches your eye try reading the full article. You might be surprised by what you find.
  3. Seek out good news: Sites like are specifically made to report on what’s going right in the world. This can give you a more balanced perspective..
  4. Practice mindful self-care: This involves monitoring physical health needs such as eating, sleeping and exercising regularly. Check out some of my colleagues’ blog posts for more ideas from counselors around stress management and self care.
  5. Gratitude Journaling: Gratitude turns your mind toward the positive. Genuinely thinking of ten things each day you are grateful for as well as imagining your best future self can help mitigate the negativity cycle and help you regain a sense of control and efficacy in creating more positive world for yourself and those around you.
If you are someone who is struggling to log off and disconnect from social media and the digital world, the book How to do nothing: Resisting the attention economy by Jenny Odell is a good place to start. In the book Jenny discusses the predatory way social media is designed to get and maintain your attention and the detrimental effects it has on our well being. I especially appreciate the emphasis she puts on reconnecting with physical people and places around us, and the practical tips she gives on doing so