The Relationship Between Negative News & Mental Health

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What’s the relationship between negative news and mental health? How can you protect your mental wellbeing from disturbing media?

Psychological studies have shown that consuming news of traumatic occurrences can have a negative impact on your mental health. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect your mental health when you’re exposed to negative or disturbing news content.

Read on to learn more about the relationship between negative news and mental health.

How Negative News Impacts Mental Health

Psychological studies have shown that there are potentially harmful effects of viewing graphically violent news images, revealing that negative news and mental health are correlated in the following ways:

  • Indignity for the victims: Graphic photos and videos are a sort of voyeurism of the worst moments of the victim’s life, thereby tarnishing their memory with indignity.
  • Trauma for the viewer: Sometimes called “vicarious trauma”—this can result in symptoms similar to PTSD.

Protecting Your Mental Health in the Short Term…

The first line of defense for your mental health when you’re exposed to graphic imagery or negative news is to adjust your social media settings to avoid it. Instagram, TikTok, Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter all have settings that give you some degree of control over what you see. Some of these sites are set up to auto-play videos, for example, but you can change that setting so you’d have to choose to play any video content. You can also look for settings that give you content warnings.

But if you do feel compelled to view graphic or negative news content, or if you’re exposed to it accidentally, you can take steps to protect your mental health. Psychologists say it’s important to act in the moment, immediately after exposure to the content, in order to combat the fight-or-flight stress response that inevitably occurs in your body when viewing violent imagery. When you’ve been exposed to content that triggers such a response:

  • Remove yourself from the trigger: To protect your mental health, if you’ve seen news content that triggers a very negative emotional response, shut down your computer or put your phone down and walk away. Physically putting distance between yourself and the trigger will help you to create mental distance. 
  • Attend to your breath and body: In a stress response situation, your breathing will naturally become more shallow and rapid, and your muscles will tense up. Take notice of these responses, and begin to take deep, slow breaths while consciously trying to relax your muscles. Remind yourself that you’re safe.
  • Replace the negative with something positive: As quickly as you can, try finding something uplifting that will bring your emotions back to a calm and positive state. Whether this means putting on your favorite music or TV show, playing with your pet, or going for a walk in the sunshine, it’s important to “overwrite” that negative response with something that counteracts it. 

…And in the Long Term

In the longer term, this kind of negative news may have lingering effects on your mental health. Intrusive thoughts of the imagery may plague you, or you may develop more generalized anxiety or negativity. If this happens, talking to a therapist may help. Other research-based strategies that may help include:

  • Staying active and socially engaged: Keeping yourself busy and engaged with family, friends, and community can prevent you from sinking into a negative spiral. 

Finally, one of the best strategies for shielding yourself from anxiety or trauma from graphic news content is to avoid the news altogether. Resist the feeling that you need to be “informed” about every tragic event in the world. Remember that in most cases, your knowing this information may not do any good at all, and may only cause you harm. Self-help guru Mark Manson argues that sensationalized news media is damaging society. He points out that most of the news we consume is geared toward hijacking our attention, and isn’t information we really need to know. Don’t feel guilty for opting out of negative news when it harms your mental health.

The Relationship Between Negative News & Mental Health

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Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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