3 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Watch The News …(OTHER than the fact that it is hugely bias, selective and fear-mongering)
I had no idea what BREXIT was until the UK had left, I’m not exactly sure why the world hates a man called Donald Trump so much and I couldn’t tell you which wars are currently going on or where.
I do not read Newspapers and I do not watch the News. Ever. I made this decision in my second year of University, after yet another plate of food was wasted after discussions of the latest headline were thrown around the dinner table. You can imagine how ostracised I was after that decision was made, since students have this overarching point to prove that they know everything about everything and there I was, actively dis-engaging with topical debates, unable to respond when asked what I thought of what was going on in <insert deprived country here> or how I felt about the treatment of <insert marginilised group of human beings here>.
Previously, I would have explained how terrible I thought it was, and how I thought that this should happen and that should happen. The others would agree, some would disagree, and after that we would all have an in-depth discussion about what we planned to wear to the Valentine’s Ball. I couldn’t stand the hypocrisy. It scared me how little control I had — both over the issue itself and the light in which it was presented to me. I couldn’t stand how unsafe and sad it made me feel about the planet on which I lived. So I stopped listening; stopped watching; stopped reading and I haven’t looked back since.
1. Negative Imagery: The Psychological Impact
A typical 30-minute news broadcast or daily newspaper is packed with graphic images of crime, war, famine, political unrest and injustice. No sooner are we are shown images of families suffering appalling conditions as they attempt to escape the horrors of the country from where they are fleeing, we are assaulted with scenes of the emergency services searching for casualities in amongst burning rubble. Forgive me if these examples are slightly outdated; as I said, I haven’t exposed myself to the news in quite some time, but I am quite sure that the sentiment has not changed in the slightest. Such images, particularly since they are of real-life situations (and therefore not reliant on the audience’s suspension of disbelief) evoke emotions of sadness, fear, stress, anxiety, and hopelessness.
In the age of the 24-hour news cycle, studies determining whether viewers who watch coverage of violent events are at an increased risk of developing emotional distress have become increasingly more salient, the results of which speak for themselves. According to many cognitive psychologists such as Dr Graham Davey, exposure to violent images in the media can lead to what is called ‘vicarious traumatisation’, i.e. for a certain portion of the viewing public, this can result in post-traumatic stress patterns similar to those that affect first-hand respondents such as doctors, nurses, police, etc.
When viewing images or videos of violence, the negative stimuli is internalised and processed by our subconscious, leading to a greater likelihood of one’s own personal worries being preserved as more severe, and causing us to be more attuned to negative or threatening events: “These images change our overall mood to a more negative one… and it is this change in mood that leads to psychological changes.. E.g. we are more likely to pick out things in our environment that are potentially negative or threatening”. As Dr Graham Davey states, this can lead to a “vicious cycle in our mood for quite some time”.
Since the processing of the images is very much something that goes on behind the scenes, it is very difficult to recognise and therefore even harder for the average person to accept: the majority of the population will flick through a newspaper on their way to work, or watch the news on television at dinner-time, entirely unaware that this daily ritual is causing long-term psychological damage.
2. Negative Imagery: The Physiological Impact
Our psychological well-being is intrinsically linked to our physical health and vice versa. It is not in dispute that when we feel positive emotions such as happiness, euphoria and love, this stimulates the release of chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine into the body. These chemicals have significant benefits on our physical health: aiding digestion, improving muscle function, and regulating blood vessel constriction — to name a few. Common-sense alone tells us that their negative counterparts must surely work in an equal and opposite way.
The most notable of these counterparts is cortisol — the ‘stress’ hormone. The majority of our cells contain cortisol receptors, meaning that the release of cortisol has an impact on a wide variety of our bodily functions. Produced by the adrenal glands when we feel stressed or anxious, cortisol has been proven to suppress our immune system (rendering the body more susceptible to disease), increase blood pressure, and result in fertility problems such as erectile dysfunction and menstrual disruption.
With the recent increase in people showing a dedication to improving their health, it would seem a perfect time to become more mindful not just of the physical substances we are ingesting, but also the images we are absorbing — since their impact is one and the same.
3. Most of it is a Waste of your Energy
The problems, challenges and opportunities that we encounter throughout our lives fall into two circles, according to Dr Stephen Covey: our circle of ‘Concern’ and our circle of ‘Influence’.
The circle of Concern encompasses all of one’s worries on both an individual level — health, relationships, family, work — and on a universal level — nuclear war, the economy, poverty. The circle of Influence is an area within the circle of Concern, encompassing the worries that one can have a degree of control over or impact on.
The basic concept is that our energies are best focused on those things that we can actually influence. That is absolutely not to say that universal issues such as immigration, the NHS and the housing market inherently fall outside of our circle of Influence. The process is very simple — ask yourself ‘what can I do to change this situation for the better?’ If you struggle to come up with a realistic answer to this question, the chances are the subject-matter falls within your circle of Concern rather than your circle of Influence, and your resources are better directed elsewhere. I am sure that you will find that for the most part, your energy has been spent talking or worrying about these issues. You have not been doing anything remotely close to influencing them, and if this is the case then you are reducing the energy available for the issues that are actually within your circle of Influence.
Your circle of Concern grows larger every time you watch the news or read a newspaper, making the above process incredibly difficult and overwhelming. Taking a break from bombarding your circle of Concern helps to silence the noise. It will allow you to truly scrutinise your areas of Influence and make key decisions that can actually engender positive change. By focusing your attention on the things you can actually influence, you are much more likely to be pro-active and in fact broaden your circle of Influence over time.
Since giving up the idea that staying ‘in the know’ is the right thing to do, I have gained immense clarity and an un-wavering notion of what I want from life and what matters to me, and my circle of Influence is so much larger than it previously was. Since my energies are no longer focused on the things that I cannot control, my resources are poured into the areas that I can: my physical, emotional and spiritual health, being a good daughter, a good girlfriend, a good employee, being the best I can be for my animals, touching the lives of those I come into personal contact with, building strong foundations for mine and my partner’s future. I urge you to do the same.