Time to Find the Bright Side of Daily News

January 2020

Getty Images

What keeps you awake at night? Is it worries about money, work, the economy, personal safety, terrorism or the current political climate? Yes … it’s all that, according to two Stress in America polls conducted by the American Psychological Association in 2016 and 2017. Another contributor to your stress: social, broadcast and print media presenting news (real or fake), especially the messaging that uses negative rhetoric intended to make you hopping mad … and keep you engaged.

Inflammatory content 

In a slice of the world’s vast communication sphere, there’s a sinister force at work using words and imagery to distort your beliefs. (No, I’m not talking about run-of-the-mill marketing pushing a brand.) Loaded language—morally and emotionally charged words and phrases used to exploit stereotypes on social, broadcast and print media—is often intended to generate outrage. (Think of a group of people being described as “others.”) And, let’s not forget the harmful, and frequently altered, imagery that’s paired with those searing words.

Researchers at NYU found that tweets about political topics that include moral and emotional language are more likely to spread within the ideological networks of the sender. In an NPR podcast episode by Shankar Vedantam called “How Outrage Is Hijacking Our Culture and Our Minds,” Vedantam relays the viewpoint of psychologist Molly Crockett of Yale University, saying “These cycles of outrage feed on one another and can produce fatigue and disengagement among audiences.” He then asks, “If the volume on everything is turned to 11, how do you separate signal from noise?”

Citing the opinions of psychologists William Brady and Jay Van Bavel, Vedantam notes, “Messages presented with less outrage are more likely to spark conversations with opponents.” As we all know, empathy and respect with people outside our ideological silos are key to bridging gaps in understanding, and that starts with civil conversations.

Change your outlook by flipping the perspective

In an article that appeared in The GuardianHans Rosling, a Swedish physician, academic and statistician, said, “Remember that the media and activists rely on drama to grab your attention; that negative stories are more dramatic than positive ones; and how simple it is to construct a story of crisis from a temporary dip pulled out of its context of a long-term improvement.” Rosling further reminded media consumers that “when you hear about something terrible, calm yourself by asking: If there had been a positive improvement, would I have heard about that? Even if there had been hundreds of larger improvements, would I have heard?”

Screen time

The days of poring over long-form articles in a daily or Sunday newspaper are gone. When bombarded by media consumption choices, I pause when I come across a lengthier online article that has a “Time to read: 19 minutes” tag, wondering if I can make that long of a commitment. 

To access the day’s news, you’ve got to be an online consumer (unless you fall into the predominantly TV-watching 65 and older category). A 2018 Pew Research Center study revealed that social media outpaced print newspapers in the U.S. as a news source. That likely explains a good portion of the approximately one hour and 57 minutes average time per day using social media for U.S. users. Worldwide, an estimated 2.65 billion people were using social media in 2018, a number projected to increase to almost 3.1 billion in 2021, according to Statista.

Scream time (some of us need a break)

My cousin in Ireland recently announced to those in her network that she was taking a time-out from social media and video chatting for an undetermined period, and suggested friends phone her if they wanted to talk (hearing someone’s voice seems to be a novel idea now). Taking a break from being connected may be trending, especially for 58% of those born after 1994 (Gen Z)—a generation that will make up 40% of consumers this year. A study by Origin reveals that 58% of Gen Z consumers are seeking relief from social media. Why? Because 68% of the Gen Z survey respondents say social media sometimes or often makes them feel sad, anxious or depressed.

Clear the deck

We can no longer ignore the emotional impact on people from negative social, broadcast and print media. Try these back-to-basics steps to quell news fatigue:

  • Limit your media consumption to trusted and authentic news sources.
  • Seek out factual news and good news.
  • Turn off or limit push notifications on news apps.
  • Avoid too many quick-hit stories and instead immerse yourself in long-form articles on a topic out of your usual scope.
  • Filter what content you expose yourself to.
  • Let your bedroom be a haven for rest and peace, not a place to catch up on news.
  • Disconnect and spend time enjoying family, friends, pets, hobbies, nature, music and hard copy books.

If you want to quickly breakout from a wearisome grind to peace of mind, if only for five minutes, here’s a baby-step suggestion for you: Consider getting a daily poem delivered to you by signing up for the The Slowdown’s newsletter. Tracy K. Smith, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet laureate of the United States in 2017, offers five soothing minutes of poetry every weekday on The Slowdown. Smith, in her calming tone, begins by offering a related narrative to her selected poem and then dives into the reading.

Maureen Joyce

Creative Director, Twirling Tiger Media