Hey, how’s it going? What’s going on in your inbox? How about your push notifications? A lot of news—much of it bad? Are your daily news podcasts turning your morning walk into a morning run-for-the-hills? If you’re aggressively nodding, you’re a part of the 66% of Americans dealing with news fatigue.
News fatigue isn’t new—that two-thirds ratio has remained steadfast since 2018. What is new, however, is the time we’re spending on news in the age of COVID-19. “The number of minutes spent by readers at news sites increased 46 percent from…last year,” reports the New York Times. “Overall visits rose 57 percent, according to a study of more than a dozen general news websites by comScore, a media measurement company.”
More news = more anxiety
Obviously, staying informed in an historic and unprecedented time is incredibly important. But should we be checking the news dozens—yes, dozens—of times a day? No… no way. Checking the news, says clinical psychologist Jacqueline Bullis in an interview with McLean Hospital, will lead to increased anxiety. “The more we seek certainty over what will happen in the future, the more anxious we will feel,” says Bullis. “It is impossible to be 100% certain of what the future holds regarding COVID-19.”
We’re already seeing the effects of ingesting so much news. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that about seven in ten adults say they need to take breaks from COVID-19 news, and half of Americans surveyed say the news leaves them feeling worse emotionally than they did before.
What do we do?
Chill. We really need to chill out on the news. We don’t need to be listening to three or four daily news podcasts. We don’t need push notifications on our phones from ten different outlets. We can’t let ourselves be consumed with trying to fix things that are essentially out of our control.
What can we do? Focus on what we can control. Washing our hands. Wearing masks. Practicing social distancing. Cooking healthy meals. Getting exercise. Sleeping enough. Doing things we enjoy.
It seems like we’ve attached a bizarre guilt to not being stressed out about the end of the world 100% of the time. There’s a proverb, attributed to an unnamed Chinese philosopher, I think of often these days:
that the birds of worry and care fly over your head,
this you cannot change.
but that they build nests in your hair,
this you can prevent.
Yes, we have to consume news to stay informed. But we don’t—and shouldn’t—have to give it the power to control our mental state. We’ve all had to adjust the way we live, yes, by nixing parties and events and going out to eat and generally socializing. But there exists in our lives other sources of happiness and stress relief. Why not focus some of the energy we’ve put into dreading the news into reading, or building things, or making art, or playing music?
The first step to getting over our news fatigue hump: turn off the notifications. Your preferred major news outlet probably has a morning newsletter briefing; I suggest replacing your nonstop notifications with that! I often save reading my newsletter of choice until after lunch, which allows me to focus all my energy on work and exercise in the morning.
The second step: balance. I’ve found myself falling into a news-only podcast hole…. Not good. I’ll listen to a daily newscast in the morning while walking my dogs, then listen to a different one that focuses on one topic midday, then at the end of the day I’ll listen to a daily wrap up. Not only do I not have the mental capability of processing 3 hours of news a day, I can’t emotionally deal with it. I’ll end up taking a break from all news, and then feel guilty about it.
What I’ve figured out that works best for me is listening to an informative but not necessarily news focused podcast in the mornings. This makes me feel like I’m using my brain; I’m learning new things without getting stressed. I then actively do not look at the news until 6 pm, when I walk the dogs again and listen to a daily newscast. I’ll get home, drink some water, and take time to actually process what I’ve listened to. I’ll think about it, and do a little digging on a particular thing I want to know more about for around a half hour, then I do yoga. Yoga (and all exercise, really) requires us to focus primarily on our movements, so it acts as a nice emotional cleanse for me. I haven’t forgotten what I’ve learned from the news, but my head is clearer and I feel more centered.
Step three? No news for at least an hour before bed. It’s self-sabotage. I always switch my phone to “do not disturb” mode an hour and a half before bedtime, and leave it in another room for the night. My boyfriend and I have a rule that we don’t talk about the news after dinner. If we have something to share, we’ll write it down and discuss it the next day. Again, not forgetting the news, but setting time aside for it. Just like a meeting, just like a work out, just like an appointment. These habits, I’ve found, keep me well-informed but also keep news in its place. My mind is no longer ravaged by constant incoming info, and I’m able to rest and relax more, and I don’t feel guilty.