Rochester, Minnesota - Let's say you accidentally step on a nail. Do you withdraw your foot or dig deeper? The answer is obvious. What happens when you watch negative news? Do you turn off the television or watch more? Most of us get glued to the television, isn't it? Do you see how our pain receptors keep us safe by withdrawing from the painful and threatening, while the mind is designed to dig deeper, into the painful and threatening? While this is helpful for occasional negative news, it can hurt us if the negative news becomes a norm, which is how the world has become.
The media capitalizes on this vulnerability to provide us a continuous cycle of negative news so we keep watching. This isn't innocuous, because everything we see, hear and think, influences our wellbeing. Negative news stimulates our fear center in the brain. It makes us hyper-vigilant and anxious. Indeed researchers have found that excessive television watching after a terrorist attack is strongly associated with development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In research studies, the risk of PTSD was higher for people who spent more than six hours a day watching news related to the event, compared to those who directly witnessed the event in person.
Further, research shows, man-made disasters, even if smaller on scale and of lower probability to affect us, generate greater fear and angst than natural disasters. A devastating hurricane creates much lesser fear than the news of terrorism.
Blaming the media, however, won't help. Media shows us what it believes we instinctively want to see. In a research study, even people who said they did not like to watch negative news, when they were presented with both positive and negative news, preferentially watched the negative news. Media sells us news as a commodity; as a business it will sell what we are most likely to buy. Our newspapers and televisions are thus likely to be dominated by negative news for a very long time.
The solution isn't to quit watching the news. We can't live in a bubble. We need to know to be safe. Here are four ideas that might help you live in a world surrounded by negative news:
- Dose - Decrease the dose of negative news your brain sees. Just turn it off after some time. Avoid looking at the news every time you have a free moment, such as in the elevator, grocery check out line, or at the airport terminal. In particular, decrease the dose of national news. If you must watch the news, focus on the local news, which is more likely to be positive and also more actionable. One of the best ways to decrease the dose is to create a discipline.
- Discipline - Create a discipline about when you will watch the news. Try not to let national news greet you first thing in the morning. Just as you have specific times for your meals and avoid munching all day long, similarly avoid munching on news all day long. Consider news as an occasional snack that is very energy dense.
- Dilute - Dilute the bitterness of daily news with positive experiences. While driving, spend more time listening to music instead of listening to news. Fill your day with thoughts of gratitude and kindness. Watch old videos and pictures of family together, talk to colleagues, friends and loved ones who help you laugh, read inspiring stories about people who have overcome adversity, and sprinkle relaxing practices all day long, such as coloring, playing, sowing, gardening, meditation and prayer.
- Develop resilient mindset - Take charge of your present moment. Choose to zoom out and look at the stressors in fuller perspective. Create positivity in your little world as a response to the negativity you see in the larger world. Choose not to live in fear. Instead, choose a perspective filled with hope, courage and inspiration.
Remember that this day today is precious. It will never come back to us. Do not live this day lifting the load of the world. Keep yourself informed, but process the information based on your values and good judgment. Most importantly, be kind to yourself.
I hope that the constant flow of negative news slows down soon. I hope the world you live in gives you more hope than despair.