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When you need a break from the news, it’s okay

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Being informed is a virtue – there’s no question about that. But do you find yourself feeling stretched too thin while catching up on the constant onslaught of information from your social media feeds, phone notifications, news sites and TV channels? Add a global pandemic to the mix and you have a very exhausted mind trying to keep up with news snippets from everywhere in an attempt to make sense of the world.  

So what if less is more when it comes to consuming the news?

According to a survey by Digital Third Coast, 68% of Americans said the news has left them feeling anxious during the pandemic. Meanwhile, 65% and 67% of respondents reported feeling overwhelmed and burnt out by the news respectively. 54% even said they were cutting back on their news consumption to escape these feelings. The trigger in anxiety is not just limited to news readers in the US or the pandemic.

Dutch researchers in 2017 conducted a study on how hard news that deals with shaping political perspectives affects well-being. It was discovered that on average, well-being falls 6.1 percent for every additional television hard news program watched a week. The researchers explained this by noting the dominance of negative stories on such programs, and the powerlessness viewers might experience as a result in the face of all that bad news. 

So how do I know if I am overdoing it?

First things first — check in with yourself. 

– How does reading the news make you feel? Does it trigger anxiety or stress about things that are completely beyond your control? 

– Do you find yourself repeatedly consuming “alarmist” content – think natural disasters, breaking political news, riots and protests etc instead of a more well-rounded news diet that adds value to your knowledge repository?

– Is your body sending you signals via a strained neck, frequent headaches, lack of sleep and/or bad posture indicating that you are spending too much time looking at screens?

If the answer to one or all of the above is yes, it is time to slow down.

Start by changing the little things

Just like all other habits, shaping our news diet should be a conscious process.

Here are some small changes in your routine that can help you stay informed while avoiding emotional and mental burnout.

– Take digital sabbaticals: Simply put, take a break from the news. Not on a specified day or time of the month, but everyday. Set aside hours in your day where you DON’T look at your social media feed or news sites. Similarly, define a time in the day, preferably 30 mins in the morning and once late in the evening when you catch up on the day’s events. Don’t do anything else in that time but focus mindfully on what you are reading, seeking out the relevant sources and finding the right background and contextual information. You will notice an uptick in the quality of your news diet without feeling bombarded with non-stop updates

– Skim less, read more: If you find yourself merely skimming through headlines multiple times a day without finding the time and bandwidth to delve into the stories in depth, you are doing it wrong. Nourish your brain with high-quality, research-backed content instead of overwhelming yourself with the same “breaking” news headlines packaged in different ways.

– Be protective of your time: If the past one year has taught us one thing, it’s that our time is limited and infinitely valuable. Hence, when choosing news sources, be picky about who you devote your time to. Prioritize publications that report responsibly, refrain from sensationalism and provide their readers with a healthy balance of content instead of holding their attention captive with triggering or shock-and-awe content

– Support good content: Show appreciation to those who are putting in the work and enriching your news diet. It can be something as simple as leaving a meaningful comment telling the outlet/journalist that you derive value from their work. Or show financial support to projects, news outlets that are trying to break the advertising-driven journalism mould with more cutting-edge holistic news coverage.

And lastly, don’t forget to tell us if these tips and tricks helped you in being more mindful with your news consumption patterns. Remember, unplugging from time-to-time from your screens does not equate to slacking – instead it is a sign of respect for our time, emotional and mental well-being and the most rewarding form of self-care.

This guest post is a part of The Tempest’s collaboration with The NewsRun. For the next month, we are working together to encourage mindful and smart news consumption. 

By Sarah Munir

Sarah Munir is a digital journalist with a focus on the intersection of technology and media. She has worked with several publications including Facebook, Forbes, Dawn, and most recently Twitter.