Information Overload: Time to Unplug?

2nd June, 2017 by

It’s hard to imagine any other time in which news has moved as fast as it does now. Not only are some of the world’s leading democracies going through an unprecedented upheaval, but the platforms and sources from which we can gain news about those events are multiplying faster than ever. Where once people read “daily headlines”, we now read them by the minute on Twitter, through push notifications on our smartphones, and via social media platforms.

This relentless pace of stimulation and – for many – anxiety, can work counter to our needs as human beings. As one mental health expert was quoted in Quartz, “The news is full of stories that make us feel out of control, a feeling which is really the central point of any anxiety condition. This can trigger a cascade of adrenaline, which is meant to prime our body for action, but there is usually no response needed. This adrenaline is circulating your body with nowhere to go.”

All those days of experiencing hyped-up adrenaline as a result of the constant flow of latest headlines start to add up. One therapist recently wrote a post detailing the anecdotal rise of patients seeking treatment for overexposure to news. She wrote on Medium: “The truth is, individual psychology is hugely influenced by political realities. Many of us feel insane right now because our world is not sane. Current events are very much at odds with our natural optimism, and our belief in human goodness and progress.”

While some people may recognise that the news is affecting their mental health, it can be difficult to simply “unplug”, as our work demands us to be connected and even to use social media to get our jobs done. In addition, many people feel that disengaging from the trials of democracy is not what a concerned citizen should do; in troubled times, we must engage further.

That being said, there are digital fixes and tricks people can employ to temper the way they experience the news. While it may not be an option to unplug or ignore what’s going on completely, you can prevent yourself from going deep into the headlines all the time.

Turn off push notifications: If you find your anxiety triggered every time your phone pings with a new notification, then work to disassociate your notification tone to news. Turn off push notifications for the news apps and sites you follow. There is no need for up-to-the-minute notifications if you find them distracting and disruptive; the news—for better or worse—will be there when you get back.

Consume the news in digest format: Instead of consuming the news in piecemeal amounts throughout the day as it happens, choose a time of day to consume the news all at once. There are a slew of email newsletters you can sign up for which bundle all the latest news into one place. This way, you can get caught up in a dedicated time period of 15 to 20 minutes, rather than being addicted and exposed to the headlines all day.

Remove news from some of your platforms: If you go on Instagram to see pictures of puppies and lattes—but keep seeing news references because you follow major media outlets – then unfollow them. Limit your news follows to places where you actually want to encounter headlines, such as Twitter, and keep some social media platforms “news free”.

Leave your phone at home: This may seem like the hardest step for some, but even small increments of time away from your phone can improve your mental health. Consider going for a walk or jog or even running an errand without your phone. Even a one hour mental break from waiting for the next headlines can boost your mood.

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