The constant stream of news about COVID-19 that we’re exposed to on a daily, hourly, and even minute-by-minute basis has had, and continues to have, a disastrous impact on our mental health. It seems that the news cycle today is sometimes less about reporting and more about keeping people addicted to the news cycle itself. And it works!

Beware the Over Consumption of News

The media we consume – via television, newspapers, magazines and especially the Internet – profoundly influences our thinking, behaviour, and emotions. If you’ve fallen into a pattern of regularly watching or listening to the news, the majority of what you’re consuming is likely about the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

And while staying up to date on local and national news, especially as it relates to mandates and health updates, is critical during this time, experts say over-consumption of the news can take a toll on your physical, emotional, and mental health.

Bad News vs. Good News

In the financial area, cognitive psychologists have determined that we humans consistently give more weight to bad news than to good news. We have a cognitive bias toward things that are going wrong. Simply put, we’re drawn to bad news.

And, there’s plenty of it out there. That doesn’t mean that the media has a vested interest in scaring us. It’s simply that we tend to respond to bad news at the expense of good news, just as we are pre-programmed to feel losses more strongly than gains – twice as strongly, in fact. In behavioural economics, our tendency to prefer avoiding losses to making gains is called loss aversion.

It all adds up to a tendency in most of us to seek out bad news at the expense of good news, compounding the problem further.

The Pandemic’s Impact Continues

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the COVID-19 outbreak and its more recent derivative Omicron, are proving to be particularly stressful for most people.

During an infectious disease outbreak, the CDC says stress can include changes in sleep or eating patterns, worsening of mental health conditions, fear and worry about your health and the health of loved ones, and difficulty concentrating.

Because sensational headlines get more attention, media outlets often end up focusing on disaster reporting – and rarely any positive news. It might appear to be just noise in the background, but it’s having a negative effect on your psyche, nevertheless.

There is a neurological foundation for this syndrome, too. Consuming the news can activate the sympathetic nervous system, which causes your body to release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Such stress hormones can precipitate such physical symptoms as fatigue, anxiety, depression, and trouble sleeping.

How To Manage Your News Consumption

The key to staying healthy is moderation. It’s important to stay informed about the pandemic, but counter-productive to dwell on it.

Leaving your television on or streaming live news broadcasts on your phone while tending to other business can take a toll on you emotionally.

So, don’t do it. Limit your consumption of pandemic news updates to 30 minutes per day if possible.

Consider Scheduling a “Worry Time”

Scheduling a “worry time” each day is a common strategy for managing the symptoms related to anxiety disorders. This technique is also helpful for watching and digesting the news cycle. Scroll through the news, acknowledge anything you are worried about, and make plans for addressing any issues. Then turn the damn news source off.

And be sure to give your brain time to settle down before going to bed. Don’t tune in to the news cycle just before turning in. That practice is guaranteed to interrupt your sleep pattern and makes a restful slumber unlikely – which perpetuates the syndrome you suffer from even more.