News Neuroscience: A Scientific Case for Turning Off the News

Does anyone else feel like their head is going to explode after an hour of scrolling through Twitter? Someone’s constantly retweeting CNN or Now This, and it’s never good news. The earth is dying, people are killing each other, racism is rampant, and there’s seemingly nothing we can do to stop it.

Following each harrowing tweet and angry hashtag is the surest way to stress yourself out. So why does anyone do this to themselves?

According to an article in The Guardian entitled “News is Bad for You — and Giving Up Reading it Will Make You Happier”, it’s because the news is addictive. Author of the article Rolf Dobelli writes: “As stories develop, we want to know how they continue. With hundreds of arbitrary storylines in our heads, this craving is increasingly compelling and hard to ignore.” 

Additionally, consuming too much information (and clickbait headlines) inhibits creative and deep thinking. Dobelli explains, “Thinking requires concentration. Concentration requires uninterrupted time. News pieces are specifically engineered to interrupt you.” The cycle continues, and we’re left hooked.

Despite knowing this, I still want to be informed — and I’m not alone. One in 10 American adults checks the news every hour. And unfortunately for us, our brains love unsettling news and the human psyche tends to put more importance on negative information than positive. This, in combination with the constant cycle of bad news, makes it seem like the world is falling apart all the time, which is a huge contributor to stress — and excessive stress can lead to increased cortisol and can put you at risk for rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and other severe health conditions.

So what’s a learned citizen to do? Blocking the news would mean missing out on the significant advancements in the country and the world. If not for the media, we wouldn’t have known about the black hole that ate a star the size of our sun. Americans might never have learned the scope of influence “nonprofit” organizations have over elections. R. Kelly would have been able to continue his horrific abuse of young women

Each of these stories has influenced the real world. Anger, outrage, and fear are unifying forces. It’s what creates Twitter mobs and actual fights in public. It all can seem too tempting to give up — but it’s not helpful and it’s hurting us. In fact, it would be better to take a break.

But before signing off completely, it’s important to address which types of news stories you most often consume and what they specifically are doing to your mental health. President Trump is a popular topic. His endless string of offensive and contentious tweets are addictive to read. People are outraged by them, the press covers the reaction, and Fox News then defends the President. It’s a familiar, yet exciting string of events to watch — but it doesn’t affect anything substantially. 

Assess which stories you can ignore. Do you really need to see yet another raging racist screaming at an innocent bystander? No, you probably don’t.

Next, replace the time spent devouring information with something pleasant or productive. Psychology Today suggests meditating, doing relaxation exercises, and removing aggressively political people from your life (or your social media). You could pick up a new — or old — hobby, watch funny videos, go on a run, read a fiction novel, or anything else that has a positive effect. 

Amid this media madness, we have to keep our sanity and restore our bodies. Self-care is vital to our well-being.

Let’s be real, though. Incorporating space away from your timeline is all good, but there’s no shame in wanting to read the news. Completely isolating yourself from the one thing you want to do won’t curb the craving, it’ll make it stronger. 

The more healthy and productive method is to do both. Moderate which stories you choose to indulge in, but ensure you give yourself a break. If you have a hard time deciphering which news is relevant, you can subscribe to a weekly news roundup, like the fullest’s newsletter. It’s a great way to stay in the loop but not get completely caught up in the goings on of the everyday, repetitive news cycle. 

With the 2020 elections quickly approaching, the news isn’t something I could comfortably go without. But the truth is, the articles will be there when I’m ready to read them. In the meantime, I’ll be lying on the couch with a good book.

Johanie Cools is a blogger, writer, book editor, and aspiring author. Follow her on Twitter at @jmartdotcom or on Medium at @jmcools.

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