Anxiety about Current Events; or, How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Mute Button

Watching the five o'clock news was a part of life in my house as a child.  I didn't have much interest in it, but my parents would watch, and I would watch when there was an election or an important event.  

I have recently worked with several clients who find the news so distressing that they choose to filter it in some way, or they develop anxiety symptoms related to a particular news topic like climate change or the election cycle.  While it's important to stay informed, it is also wise to know your depth in your consumption of the news, and some filtering is probably a good idea.  Here are a few ideas to consider as you think about consuming the news:

  • If a warning is given, like "the following footage is graphic and may be disturbing to some viewers," take the warning seriously.  If you're prone to anxiety, look away.  You won't miss anything important.  
  • If you find that you're getting upset about the news, limit your consumption.  Use a service that gives you the headlines in three minutes or five minutes.  You'll be aware of events but you won't have to hear all the details that might overwhelm you.  
  • Remind yourself what you are and are not responsible for.  You can make a difference in your community and family, but there is little benefit to taking on the problems of the whole world.  
  • Check the source.  Facebook is not a news outlet, and it has no reason to check the veracity of the posts provided.  
  • Use several sources to get your news, and make sure that you choose sources with opposing views or biases so that you get a well-rounded point of view.  News sources originating in other countries can be very helpful for this.  
  • Watch for tricks that might be covering up a false narrative.  A single sentence cut from a full speech can be misleading, and a single sob story could be true but not representative of the statistics on a given issue.  You want scientific evidence of whatever you're being told.  

Look into the profit model of your chosen news source.  If you're not the customer, i.e., if you're not paying for it, then you are the product.  This means that advertisers are paying for the news that you are trusting, and therefore the news source cannot be impartial.  If a pharmaceutical brand is a large advertiser for a magazine, that magazine will have to be careful about writing an expose on that drug's side effects.   Quality journalism costs money, and if you are getting your news free online, then someone else is paying for that journalism.  It may be a nonprofit with a political motive, or maybe a business that's making money based on how many visits are made to its website.  The goal, then, is to maximize site visits and not to provide you with insightful journalism.