• How we keep poisoning our happiness with negative news

    August 23, 2016 | curtrosengren
  • negative news

    “I’m feeling a lot better,” she said. It was a welcome change.

    The week before, my client had been feeling stressed and overwhelmed at the state of the world. The feeling was seeping into her days, coloring her experience of life and weighing her down.

    As we talked about that, I suggested that she experiment with a news fast. For the week between our sessions, she would refrain from watching or reading the news. She gamely took on the challenge.

    I have suggested this enough times with clients to feel fairly confident that I knew what the outcome would be. Sure enough, she came back not only feeling better, but having a better understanding of just how much the toxic stew of negative news she was feeding her mind on a daily basis was impacting her.

    Almost without fail, when my clients try this experiment, it leads them to change their news consumption habits. They don’t necessarily eliminate it completely, but they’re much more conscious about when and how much they consume. (Pro tip: Stop watching the news first thing in the morning – it does nothing but implant a negative perspective in your day.)

    What the research says

    It’s not just my opinion, or the anecdotal evidence from my clients. There is a growing body of research that points to the detrimental effects of negative news consumption.

    One study showed people positive, neutral, or negative news. They found that the people who watched the negative news all felt significantly more anxious and sadder afterwards than those watching positive or neutral news.

    They also found that the negative news consumption magnified personal worries that had nothing to do with the content of the news. They felt more threatening and severe. (Johnston and Davey – 1997)

    Another study showed that for 22% of the subjects, watching traumatic events in the media can cause PTSD-like symptoms like stress and anxiety, similar to the “vicarious PTSD” that health emergency workers and health professionals can get. Moreover, the more frequently people watched those traumatic events, the stronger those symptoms were. (Ramsden – 2015)

    That was reflected in another study that looked at the effect of news consumption related to 9/11 and the Iraq War. They found that people who watched four hours a day of coverage were more likely to feel acute stress in the short term and PTSD-like symptoms in the long term. They also reported more physician-diagnosed physical ailments two to three years down the road. (Cohen Silver et al – 2012)

    And negative news consumption can have an effect on how you feel in any given day. A recent study compared the impact of watching just three minutes of negative news first thing in the morning with watching three minutes of solutions-focused news. People who watched just that small dose of negative news were 27% likely to report having a bad day six to eight hours later. (Anchor and Gielan – 2012)

    And if all that weren’t bad enough, it gets worse. How you feel contributes to the lens through which you see the world around you. When you feel more worried and stressed, you’re likely to notice more to feel worried and stressed about. It’s a vicious cycle.


    Go on a news fast. For at least a week, stop watching the news. Stop checking into Facebook or other social media that becomes an echo chamber for the latest tragedies and outrage. See how it feels.

    You can also add positive media to your day. That might be positive news, uplifting and inspiring stories about people, positive books and movies, etc.

    Positive news can be challenging to find, so here’s a post I wrote on the Ripple Revolution blog a while back with a collection of links to pages and sites that focus on positive, uplifting news. That’s a good place to start.

    In my next post, I’m going to explore how to stay informed (yes, that’s important) and still stay sane.

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