The world we live in is literally soaking in data. We are constantly surrounded by radio and TV signals, mobile signals, and WiFi constantly moving information at close to the speed of light around us. The media overwhelms our senses with countless channels that pour information and entertainment upon us, competing for our limited attention span with some of the most eye-catching – and sometimes hair-raising – headlines. If you think this constant influx of “sensational” and “exclusive” pieces of “breaking news” and “news alerts” doesn’t affect us in any way, you couldn’t be more wrong. The media’s habit of focusing on the news that captivates the attention of the viewer the easiest (usually it’s bad, outrageous news that involves tragedy and bloodshed) is taking its toll on the world’s collective mental health.
What a difference a tweet makes
People today have a finger on the pulse of the world at all times thanks to their lives’ seamless integration with social media. Social networks are not without negative effects on our minds themselves – they are known to trigger feelings of envy and a fear of missing out in their users – but the content that gets shared in a viral fashion is a completely different story, adding layers of anxiety to the mix. Remember when President-Elect Donald Trump got into a Twitter beef with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un? Well, the number of World War 3 searches spiked at the same time. But the effect went beyond just the people feeling anxious about the impending thermonuclear MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) – the markets felt its effects, too, sending the prices of commodities like oil and gold into the stratosphere.
Of the news and our peace of mind
The so-called “negative sensationalism” (the term was used by Graham C.L. Davey Ph.D. in a 2012 article published by Psychology Today) has been gradually growing for decades, with news bulletins today focusing especially on negative news – armed conflicts, crime, natural disasters, and such – more than they do on good news. And TV broadcasters have the habit of emotionalizing the news, emphasizing on its potential negative impact, no matter how improbable it may be. To stick with the above example, a Twitter feud between the leaders of two nuclear powers doesn’t mean that the intercontinental missiles are ready to be deployed but the media has a habit of presenting it that way. And this inability or better said unwillingness of the media – including social media – to present unbiased information to the public is taking its toll on our mental health.
What can you do to avoid being brought down by the news? Well, the first thing you should do is find a news source that’s impartial and unbiased, as dispassionate as possible. And stay away from the toxic fearmongers on social networks – they weren’t built to depress you, after all.