We are living in a world of constant news availability and awareness. The New York Times, The Huffington Post, NBC, Buzzfeed, Twitter, Facebook, The Associated Press…these are just a few of the sources people turn to daily as a way to stay aware and involved in what is going on around them. While it is good to be an involved and aware citizen, the amount of exposure to news and social media has increased greatly in recent years. A recent Nielsen Company report stated that Americans are spending more than 10 hours each day on their smart phones, which is a far shift from having a news paper delivered to your home in the morning and watching the nightly news in the evening. When we include other electronic devices and sources of news information we can realize that we are becoming not just a culture of awareness, but at times we may be over-aware of what is happening in the world around us.
Take a moment and think about what your routine includes each day. You wake up, get ready, commute. Think about your work day, your after work activities, dinner, how you typically spend your evening and how you prepare to go to bed. Now, ask yourself how many times you were exposed to social media, news, and incoming data during that typical day. Do you check emails and news sites as soon as you wake up? Is your car radio tuned to talk radio? How often are you checking social media while at work or in the evening when spending time with friends and family? Ask yourself, does it ever feel as though the constant input of information from these sources is having an impact on your thoughts and mood?
It is important to know what is going on in our world, but we also must check in with ourselves about the potential impact of this knowledge. Do you ever experience any negative effects from being constantly updated of the local, national and international news, email blasts, social media posts, editorials and comment sections of the many websites, television stations and social media resources that you choose to engage with throughout the day? Again, it is important to be informed, but without balance this information can cause increased stress, anxiety and depression. Alison Holman, a professor at the University of California Irvine stated in a recent NPR report that ”People who exposed themselves to six or more hours of media daily actually reported more acute stress symptoms than did people who were directly exposed.” That means that in some situations your news exposure of a traumatic event may be more impactful to your stress level than to a person who actually experienced the event. A recent Huffington Post article cited Dr. Victor Schwartz of the Jed Foundation who stated “One of the things we have seen is there is an association of depression and time spent on social media,” primarily related to feelings of comparison, fear of missing out on things, a need to always be aware of what is happening and as a result of negative or argumentative reactions of others on social media. These are two articles of many that reflect that although knowledge is power, we should be conscientious to not flood our minds with constant input from these sources as the consequences can be detrimental to our emotional and mental health.
Here are a few idea for how to get started in establishing self care strategies to manage the impact of news and social media input:
-Limit the amount of input. Identify a few sources of information that you trust and limit your input to those trusted sources. Having EVERYTHING online at your fingertips can be overwhelming and lead to increased time online or on your smartphone.
-Schedule news and social media time. Choose time to check in and update yourself about recent news and social media posts and don’t check those websites or apps during non-scheduled times. Checking news and social media first thing in the morning or right before bed can have an impact on your mood for your entire day or could negatively impact sleep.
-Turn off notifications from websites and social media so that you are less distracted and less likely to check these sites as frequently throughout the day.
-Plan activities that don’t involve news, social media or electronics. Spend time with friends, take a walk in the park, create a new recipe or meditate quietly. It is good to find times in your day that are more self aware and less aware of the news and information around us.
-Take “log off” breaks from your smart phone, tablet and computer altogether to give your brain some time off.
-Remember to be grateful and look at the positive things that are going on in the world as well. Start a gratitude journal as a way to consciously choose gratitude and positive thoughts daily.
-Be gentle and kind with yourself and others. When we are stressed, we often react in ways that are not typical for us and later feel poorly about these choices. Take breaks, breathe deeply and remember that you are in control of the input you allow in your day.
These small steps may feel difficult at first and that is okay. Trying even one small step can help reduce feelings of overwhelm and over-awareness that maybe impacting your ability to be your best self. If you find that taking these steps on your own becomes difficult, it may be time to reach out to a local therapist to help you explore barriers to reducing the negative impact of media in your life. Feel free to call Northstar Counseling Center if you think you could benefit from some extra support in making these changes. Your mental health is important. Taking just a few small steps to prioritize your mental and emotional health are worth the time.