This weekend, I went down another media rabbit hole. After the president of the United States tested positive for COVID-19, I felt compelled to check almost hourly on the state of the nation and the world. I read long analysis pieces on the likelihood that the president could become ill, news on the many Whitehouse employees who were testing positive and opinion columns on the impact statements made by our leaders would have on the safety of our nation. By Monday, I was a wreck.
What I needed was a media vacation.
It may sound ironic for a member of the news media to write about the need to limit your ingestion of news, but overconsumption of anything — from Nutella to news — just isn’t good for you. When it comes to how much news you read on any given day, it can quickly tip into the red zone. We don’t even realize we are doing it. Maybe we read the news in the morning when we are having our coffee, or in the evening before we eat dinner. But then we are scrolling through social media, and a story catches our eye, so we read it. Or there’s a story on the radio telling us about the impacts of the latest events on the economy, so we listen to that. Then we hear about this new thing that happened, and we get online to read about it. Before you know it, you’re spending hours a day ingesting news, most of it bad, and our stress levels are through the roof.
We feel justified, though. After all, we are worried about the future — for our children, our elderly parents, our jobs. We want to be prepared for what is coming so we can act accordingly. We want to know how to stay safe and secure and sane.
But overconsumption of news, especially right now, isn’t any healthier than sticking your head in the sand and ignoring it all. As with everything, there needs to be a balance.
So what’s the answer? A news diet. Just like a food diet, the trick is to consume healthy things, stay away from junk, and know when you’re full. First, identify your most trusted news sources, both local and national, and decide how much time you realistically want to spend on a daily or weekly basis staying informed. For some people, that may be an hour, for others, it might be more or less, depending on the other priorities in your life. The point is, whatever limit you choose, make a plan to stick with it. Allocate a time of the day you want to update yourself from your trusted news sources, and write it in your calendar or schedule it on your phone.
Now, the trick is, just like a diet, to monitor yourself to see if you start veering into the news binge again. It might help to write down why you want to reduce the amount of news you are consuming — maybe because you are staying up too late or are feeling stressed or anxious. Then, when you are tempted to click on a link on Facebook, you can be reminded why that isn’t a good idea.
Once we have our consumption of news under control, it will probably be helpful to take a look at how much time you are spending on social media. Many mental health professionals recommend no more than 30 minutes a day of social media scrolling and news exposure combined. I bet most of us are way over that right now.
Chances are, even after you set this intention, you will fall off the wagon now and again. Don’t berate yourself if you spend an hour reading doom-and-gloom news and are so frazzled you can’t sleep that night. Just renew your intention to do better the next day and remind yourself why and how you are going to do that.
There is no question that it is important to be informed and up to date on the happenings in our community, state, nation and world right now. But doing so shouldn’t come at the expense of your emotional stability or your other responsibilities. Especially now, when so much is changing, we need to stay strong, balanced and focused on the things that are most important to us. Chances are, most of those things won’t be found on a social media feed.
Today, I spent the whole day outside enjoying a beautiful fall day in Alaska. I have no idea what happened in the last eight hours — who Tweeted what, what the latest polls say or who blasted who. And you know what? The world kept right on spinning.