“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.” ― Pema Chödrön
Like many of you reading this, from a young age I was encouraged to stay abreast of world news and current affairs. It is often touted as a prerequisite for being an intelligent and informed person.
After hearing that my niece was advised by her general practitioner at a medical check-up “to watch the nightly news and start to learn about the world now that she was 8” I gather this belief still runs strong out there in our community.
Quitting This Will Make You Feel Calmer and Peaceful
The mother of this child contacted me to ask me what I thought about this from a child development and emotional wellbeing point of view as she hadn’t considered this a necessary part of an 8-year-old’s day.
I thought of all the things my niece would be learning about the world such as every day there are people being murdered, assaulted, having their homes destroyed and learning about a variety of natural disasters and the human distress that goes along with those events.
Essentially my niece would be learning that the world is not safe and could likely develop feelings of anxiety about the potential of these events happening to her or the people she knows, stress as the result of feelings of helplessness, a pessimistic outlook about the world and depressed or hopeless feelings as a result.
I would argue the world is much more things than the narrowly focused information presented on the nightly news (and thank goodness for that). For the record, frequent exposure to the news can have these effects on adults as well. The news is something I often recommend depressed clients avoid or at the very least reduced.
Because of what I know about the impact of the 24 hour news cycle on mental health I had already protected myself from being exposed to a lot of it. Since going on a long road trip during which I heard about an upsetting child abduction every half hour on a radio channel, I tend to switch the radio off in the car when the news is played. I do not watch the nightly news and I limit the news sites I read on the internet. I do read a newspaper on the weekend but try to avoid reading those stories that I know will trigger strong emotional reactions or feelings of hopelessness.
Despite my attempts to limit the impact of the news cycle, a 6-week vacation this year proved I was being exposed to a lot more than I realized. Some of the destinations through which I traveled had limited or no access to wifi and on top of that I had not paid for an extension of my cell data for international travel so I was essentially cut off from the online world for most parts of a day if not all of it.
What was most noticeable was the lack of access to national and international news. During my time away the transcripts between Donald Trump and the Australian leader’s first phone call were revealed, a missile was launched over Japan and I’m sure many violent crimes were reported around the clock. All events that had I been exposed to them via news, would have led to a range of feelings from outrage, a sense of powerlessness and sadness. Not knowing about them spared me these feelings. When I heard about them much after the event occurred, there seemed to be a dampened more detached emotional reaction. Surprisingly, I did not feel guilty or less intelligent for not knowing these events had occurred when people mentioned them. If anything, I felt relieved to be able to enjoy my day without having to think about events that I have no control over.
These days news comes in at you from everywhere. It’s not just a 30 minute TV program or a newspaper. Your social media streams are full of it, real and fake, as Facebook friends share and like topics that interest them. News stories can vie for your attention when you open your phone and you may receive alerts from apps. You are potentially receiving stressful and depressing information each and every hour of your life.
If you are skeptical or concerned about quitting the 24-hour news cycle, ask yourself this. Of all the “news” you have heard in your life, how much of it helped you to improve your life? How much of it has led to the actionable change? Conversely how much of it caused you to worry about your own or your family’s personal safety or feel depressed about the state of the world or humanity?
As with everything I recommended, I offer to quit the news cycle as an experiment. As an experiment, trial what it’s like to either limit or totally cut off from the news. Notice what happens to your emotional l wellbeing. Determine for yourself whether the worry about not knowing what is going on is balanced out by feeling safer, less stressed and more optimistic. You can always go back to your old ways if it doesn’t work for you. Maybe totally quitting the news cycle isn’t for you but putting some strict boundaries around your exposure to news is a workable option.