How to Read the News and Protect Your Mental Health
Updated: Dec 21, 2021
With all of us being stuck at home, our reliance on our phones and technology to stay connected to the world has become greater than ever. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with instant updates, unreliable ‘clickbait’ headlines and what seems like a never-ending cycle of bad news. These are all normal feelings, but can be a detriment to our mental wellbeing.
Here at A News Education, we aim to cut through this confusion and equip people with the resources they need to cope and understand the news more easily. Here are our five tips and tricks to help you get reliable news, but not at the cost of your mental health.
1. Set time limits
Constant news checking and headline refreshing can feel overwhelming and exhausting. By trying to limit time exposed to news, switching off and decompressing can become easier. In addition, the time set aside to keep informed by reading the news can become more focused and concentrated.
Screen time trackers such as Clockify, Moment and Forest are available on iOS and Android where you can monitor and set limits for time spent on certain apps. Perhaps start with some small goals based on your current screen time and go from there.
Reflecting on when certain news apps are checked would also be beneficial, as checking news first thing in the morning or right before bed can exasperate worry.
2. Turn off push notifications
‘Soundbite’ headline notifications from news apps can cause distractions and unnecessary disruption. A 2016 study found that push notifications exert a ‘negative influence on cognitive function and concentration’ when completing daily tasks. By turning off push notifications, bombardment of worrying news can be limited.
Instead, setting aside dedicated time each day to read the news when you feel mentally prepared will ensure you stay informed. There can be significant pressure to read a headline as soon as it happens, but the news can always wait.
3. Select trusted news sources
From Covid-19 to climate change, in a time of additional uncertainty some news sources can be misleading and add to the confusion. By fact checking your news sources and being an active news reader, spotting inflated and biased news will help take back some control.
There are several ways to do this. You can independently verify and look into the facts, research the author, and read beyond the headline. Alternatively, Fullfact.org is an independent, reputable fact checking organisation in the UK. If you want quick break downs of complex news topics with accurate information, A News Education’s Cheat Sheets are also helpful (if we say so ourselves!).
While comment sections can be useful for hearing other opinions and thoughts, debates and negativity in the comments can further add to the stress. When already feeling overwhelmed, staying out of comment sections will also help minimise confusion. Trust that your source is providing you with all the important information you need.
4. Check in with yourself
Checking in with how you are feeling is a good way to prevent media burnout before it happens. Ask yourself ‘how does this article or headline make me feel?’ and assess your motives for reading the news.
If you are sensing that you’re not feeling great, it is okay to take a break from reading the news. Don’t be afraid to put you and your mental health first. Mindfulness can be a great way to stay present and aware of your thoughts and emotions.
5. Talk about it
Large scale events and controversial topics can leave a feeling of disconnect and confusion. Having conversations with trusted friends or family about current affairs and how its impacting you can help ease those worries. Sharing perspectives and thoughts on important topics can be beneficial for everyone involved as often others might share the same concerns.
This could also take the form of finding a reading buddy or creating a group chat where the news is regularly discussed in a safe and open environment.
Positive news and social media accounts
At the moment, it might seem like news outlets are only presenting the doom and gloom, and it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. Balancing bad news with good news serves as a good reminder that it’s important to look at both sides of the story.
Different from your usual newspaper, The Happy Newspaper is focused on reporting on the positives and the good that people do in the world which often go unnoticed.
This is a journalist run Instagram account that also focuses on providing uplifting news.
All Sides is another great resource to help fact check and provide balanced news. They provide media bias ratings so full information on news sources’ spin are easy to access.
More than ever, feeling anxious and overwhelmed by the news is completely normal. Indeed this list itself with all of its resources might seem like too much to do at once. If so, start small and set your own boundaries according to what feels right. Remind yourself to take a step back and ground yourself in the bigger picture. Reading the news does not have to impact your mental health; creating a balance will help protect your sanity whilst staying informed.
For more practical guides on reading the news, head to our dedicated Fake News & Role of the Media section.