There is such a thing as too much news.
Some days, keeping up with the news can feel like you’re drowning. In our age of information, the “bad stuff” can feel inescapable – 86% of us reach for our phones within an hour of waking up, 33% within five minutes. The news is no longer constrained to BBC Breakfast on our telly; nowadays it seems to seep into almost everything we do online. The morning Twitter scroll, the impulsive checking of Instagram stories of people you went to high school with – there’s no escape from the real world within the digital one. And so, enter: “news fatigue”.
According to the internet’s most reliable site, Urban Dictionary, news fatigue is defined as “becoming tired of the constant negativity or political propaganda in the news.” This year, more than ever, the phrase has crept into the general vernacular. There’s just something about the combination of a pandemic, months-long protests, the global impact of a US election and a looming Brexit deadline that has mentally exhausted us all a little – who knew? In light of the pandemic, even our activism has moved online – think about the George Floyd petition on Change.org, which is now approaching 20m signatures. Global lockdowns throughout the spring resulted in millions of people being stuck inside their homes, relying on the news and social media to remind them that there was, in fact, still a world outside of their front door. As a result, news sites like The Guardian received 2.17bn page views in March, smashing their previous record by 750m. While it’s always good to be politically conscious and aware of current events, it comes as no surprise to admit that constantly having your head stuck in the world’s bad news can seriously affect your mental health.
But why, exactly, does this influx of news mentally exhaust us so much? It could be the overall depressing tone of the everyday news, especially in such a tumultuous year – the Covid death rates, the social inequalities inherent in our society, the political extremism running rampant across the globe. The news also has a funny habit of making us feel totally powerless: as viewers, we feel like we have no influence over the events we’re seeing, which can result in a “bad things are going to happen whether I know about them or not” mindset. In turn, we start to avoid the news entirely, which may benefit our mental health in the present moment, but still isn’t a perfect solution in the long run.
So, how can we strike a balance between staying informed about the world around us and protecting our own mental health by ceasing this endless scrolling? One thing we can do is attempt to curb our social media usage – or at least give ourselves a few technology-free moments a day. I’ve personally seen a major change in my mood and in my overall focus over the past few months since I made a few rules for myself. For example, I don’t use my phone an hour after waking up, or before going to bed, which helps to limit those all-too-familiar instances of falling into a deep, dark hole on Twitter or The Guardian website first thing in the morning. With my bedroom now doubling as a lecture hall, I’ve been trying to compartmentalise slightly by restricting most of my scrolling to the kitchen when I’m eating meals. My diary bears the brunt of my “the world is on fire and I don’t know how to stop it” worries, helping to ground me more in the present moment rather than being stuck in the past or fearing such an indeterminable future. I’ve also found that the occasional FaceTime rant to your best friend about what you’ve lost to Covid this year can go a long way for your general mental health. Staying positive, staying busy, staying grounded – that has become my unwritten mantra since March.
There is no perfect remedy for news fatigue; this year, we’re all in uncharted territory. Now, more than ever, I think it’s important to give yourself time to just exist in this moment, coping with everything that’s going on in your own way, and try not to give too much mind to the fact that you can’t change it all. It’s far from a sin to give yourself some time to process all of these explosive events, but none of us should succumb to staying in our own echo chambers, uninformed of the world around us. Life’s a balancing act, after all – in this area, 2020 is no different.