Twenty years ago, most people kept up with events by watching a 30-minute local news broadcast and a 30-minute national or international news broadcast on TV each evening. They might also skim a local or national newspaper—or hear a one-minute headline wrap-up on the radio—each morning.
Now, we have near-constant access to wide circles of friends and family, as well as a never-ending supply of adorable animal videos. We also have the opportunity to learn about more things that matter to us.
On the negative side, the constant flow of information can be overwhelming. And, whether it’s a friend’s sports digs, details of natural disasters, or political opinions, negative “news” can increase anxiety and heighten feelings of depression and hopelessness.
Try these five ways to get your balance back:
- Schedule your information intake.
Just because you can be connected all day, doesn’t mean you should be. The human brain is hardwired to pay attention to things that are changing all the time.
Try going on an info-diet. Schedule 15 or 20 minutes in the morning, at lunchtime, and in the evening to check the headlines and skim your social feeds. Between those times, log off. You may find that your concentration improves and you feel more relaxed after the first few days.
- Know the difference between commentary and news.
Remember that not all “news” is the same. Reporting delivers the verified facts about an event, situation, or topic. Commentary provides analysis, opinions, or feelings about facts.
So, for example, CNN or Fox News (and other media outlets) might have a 30-minute broadcast that reports facts. They might also have eight hours of commentary shows about those facts. The commentary fosters the impression of “negative news”—and it’s bolstered by the individual opinions our friends and family express on social media.
Follow wire services like Reuters and the Associated Press on Twitter to narrow your exposure to more fact-based reporting. Remove commentary-heavy sources from your social feeds—and block posts from friends who have negative or disagreeable opinions if you find them upsetting.
- Fight back against the fear of missing out (FOMO).
Many people spent hours every day trying to take in as much information as possible—even when it’s not relevant to their daily lives.
Try deleting all but one or two news organizations from your social feeds so that you have to make the effort to visit their websites if you want to see their specific take on a subject. (You probably won’t even notice they’re gone.)
Also, look critically at the news you do see. Ask yourself how much more you need to know to take action. Chances are, the answer is “none.”
- Make positive connections your priority.
Related to that last item: Ask yourself what you can do about the news—within the next day. Think about what aspect of the news is touching you most deeply. You’ll likely find that behind your sense of depression, despair, or anger, something has triggered your sense of compassion.
Turn that compassion into a positive action right away. Identify a local organization in a related field and volunteer. Research a nonprofit that needs your professional skills. Read a few books to get a deeper, not more repetitive, understanding of the issue. Practice “active” reading by keeping notes about ideas for how you can help.
- Find something to do—and take care of you.
Finally, step away from the screen or put the phone down. Take a walk and listen to sounds around you. Shoot some hoops. Build a model ship. Do something that requires you to be in the moment and keep your hands busy.
While you’re at it, take small steps to improve your well-being. Eat healthfully and regularly. Make sleep the safest part of your day—put your phone in a drawer or across the room so you’ll be less tempted to check for updates.
Improve the lives of people around you. Hold the door for someone, shovel the neighbor’s sidewalk, compliment the chef, or simply meet someone’s eyes and smile. Connecting with real people in real life helps you see the positives when the news serves you negatives.