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COLUMN: Our endless news cycle is destructive to mental health



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People often use Twitter for news. People can now receive notifications for current events and stories. Alex Deryn Buy Photos

The 24-hour news cycle is exhausting, and keeping up with it can be bad for your health. While it's tempting to stay in the loop, sometimes you need to take a break.

A 2018 poll from the Pew Research Center shows that about seven in 10 Americans have “news fatigue.” Roughly 68 percent of Americans are left feeling like there’s too much news to keep up with, creating exhaustion during high-profile coverage, like elections. These studies prove that a majority of us feel overwhelmed — it’s not a rare occurrence.

The feeling for this toll has a name — compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is a state of indifference toward suffering caused by repeated exposure to traumatic situations.

While traditionally associated with care-giving professionals, such as nurses, compassion fatigue can impact anyone in a position where they consistently feel empathy toward others in distress.

This is especially true if a high-profile story has traumatizing aspects similar to trauma you’ve been through, like stories during the #MeToo movement. These stories are important, but depressing. The attention given to them is necessary, but seeing them everywhere is draining.

It’s easy to see how people can feel overwhelmed. It seems like every year there’s more to keep up on, and with the world’s information brought to us via push notification, it’s hard to stay away. Being bombarded with information about the president’s latest scandal or yet another school shooting can really take a toll on you.

But the news cycle doesn’t stop and it can’t — our fast-paced world needs fast-paced coverage. 

The real challenge is staying informed without losing your will to care in a world full of daunting notifications about upsetting stories. It’s possible, but how do you do it?

The most basic solution is limiting your firsthand exposure to news media. I’m not saying you should forego looking at the news completely, but if you find the news is exhausting you, try putting an actual time limit on how long you can look at news sites and apps — there are browser extensions and apps specifically for this, like AppDetox for Android or Screen Time settings for iOS.

Register the emotions you feel when you’re exposed to the news. If you read or watch news and feel anxious, with no accompanying motivation to change what upset you, think about completely unplugging for a little.

Take the time that you may have previously spent obsessing over the news and find something you like to do, even if you aren’t good at it. But remember to take some time to actually enjoy your hobbies and take them at your own pace.

Being connected can be exhausting. Take time to stay informed, but walk away before you forget how to experience the outside world.

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