Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Every day of this week, I’ve woken up to Facebook news alerts and messages from friends I worked with during my time as an emergency responder to refugee landings on the Greek island of Lesbos. I saw messages warning of roving gangs of locals looking to beat up non-Greeks, and about police attacks on locals protesting detention centers. I read that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan just opened Turkey’s borders for refugees headed to Europe in response to a lack of support for Turkey’s offensive in Syria. My Italian family’s WhatsApp group, which usually is full of memes and bizarre videos, became flooded with my relatives panicking about the overnight 50 percent spike in coronavirus cases in Italy.
Needless to say, all of the apocalyptic news this week is driving me insane. Usually, the reaction to something — or someone — that drives you insane is putting as much distance as humanly possible between yourself and the object of your ire. The only problem is that we need to stay informed about important issues. In order to be a functioning human being in the internet age, we have to keep up with the constant barrage of information coming at us from all directions, even if sometimes it all just gets to be too much. With that in mind, it’s crucial to build personal strategies for healthy media consumption.
The first thing to realize about the news we consume is that, inevitably, some news outlets will dramatize their headlines and stories in order to get clicks. This doesn’t have to be limited to obvious clickbait on sketchy sites; even mainstream news outlets are guilty of engineering headlines to catch readers’ morbid curiosity and entice them into reading. The popularity of social media means that more news outlets rely on social media audiences, and they accordingly make their headlines bite-sized and dramatic. Then, BAM! Before you know it, you’ve spent three hours on Twitter, and you feel like you’ve just mentally waded through sludge.
While we can’t change what headlines mainstream news deems trendy, we can look out for dramatized headlines, and we can read multiple reports of the same event in order to cut through some of the sensationalization. But what happens when the news really is devastating?
One of my favorite ways to combat the sinking feeling I get when I’ve spent hours reading bad news is to go outside. It’s easy to think the world is a terrible place, especially when we’re affected by constantly reading and watching reports about negative events. Anything that forces me to stop looking at my phone and be aware of the good around me helps alleviate the hopelessness that’s so easy to slip into when reading the news. A National Institutes of Health study found that consumption of bad news has negative psychological effects, and that relaxation — rather than distraction — is effective in combating negative psychological reactions to the news. Whatever you do after reading negative news, make sure it’s not merely a distraction, but an active attempt at progressive relaxation.
Another way to deal with the endless negativity of the news cycle is to just be aware of yourself and your needs. Understand that you may have biases toward more negative news that affect your consumption habits, and actively seek out positive stories to incorporate alongside the inevitable negative ones — they’re out there, I promise! If you need to speak to a friend or a professional, do it. There’s no shame in knowing your limits. If the news leaves you feeling powerless, consider volunteering or starting a project you’ve been putting off for a while.
These methods I’ve listed are neither exhaustive nor guaranteed to work for everyone. Sometimes everything just sucks, and we want to indulge in anger or sadness. It’s also impossible to completely stop being affected by something that’s become so ingrained in our daily habits and in the way we experience the world. However, if we can get to a point where our need for information doesn’t totally eclipse our need for mental health, then that’s already an excellent place to begin. The moment we stop putting these two needs in opposition to each other is the moment we can work toward improving our media consumption.
Caterina Ieronimo is a sophomore government and politics major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.