Consuming COVID-19 News: Informed vs. Alarmed
Like so many, I have struggled to find a balance in how much information I consume about this pandemic, how it's affecting people, and it's impact around the world. While I feel there is a social responsibility to stay engaged and informed, I've had to rethink how I manage this when I can't sleep at night, I get too anxious to be productive or positive, or I'm inducted into the powerlessness that so many negative stories foster.
Taking in a constant stream of bad news - written or verbal - has negative emotional and physical health consequences. It can increase feelings of acute stress, and escalate fears and our sense of powerlessness during a time when we are already highly attuned to our vulnerability. It can leave us physiologically charged, disrupt sleep, and undermine our ability to be resilient. And because we are instinctively vigilant about potential dangers to ourselves, our brain can be easily hot-wired by negative news stories in an effort to identify risks and protect ourselves, even when we are trying to limit our focus on negative stories.
Some media research out of University of California-Davis even shows that too much repetitive negative news can lead us to behaving less kindly and helpfully toward each other, compromising toleranace, engagement, and trust. It can contribute to hopelessness and helplessness, as well. I don't know about you, but I would like to be trending in the other direction, especially right now.
What Can We Do for Balance?
• Firstly, limit consumption. Especially at night. Turn off your alerts and be intentional about when, and what, you choose to read rather than absorbing a steady stream of news throughout the day.
• Avoid click-bait and overt sensationalism. The bad is bad enough. We don't need it trumped up for us. Follow reputable news sources.
• Seek out positive news stories that offer optimism or some sense of agency. Share them with others. (And definitely don't feel you have to read everything that others share with you, especially those stories that fuel grief, anxiety or catastrophic thinking.)
• Choose social media consumption that promotes kindness, compassion, connection and inspiration. Pass on what might reduce isolation, foster support or altruism, or instill hope. Choose to believe that you - and others - can be part of the solution.
• Look for solutions based journalism – stories that may go into depth about a problem, but also focuses on what’s being done to solve it. Some newspapers, like The New York Times, also have sections like The Week in Good, that are dedicated to positive stories. (There are several newspapers that have been doing something like this, even pre-pandemic. We could use more. Consistently.)
And, apparently there is Solutions Journalism Network, https://www.solutionsjournalism.org, which offers a large database of solution-focused news stories. They have a broad selection of solutions stories on COVID-19 (Containment, Coping & Adapting, and Care & Compassion), in addition to their regular daily news coverage. I had never heard of it, but it's one of the things I'm going to try.
Because I want to stay responsibly informed, without feeling constantly alarmed.