Are you one of those people that watch the news every night? Have you ever stopped to think about how it makes you feel? According to studies, Fox News was the most-watched cable network in primetime in 2018 with a total of 2.5 million viewers. OK- that’s a lot of viewers. 2.5 million people are watching this station, and rapid changes are being made to each one of their brains. This can sometimes be beneficial, to help us learn new information, but many times, watching the news causes increased fear, stress, and apprehension.
I recently took a poll on Instagram asking followers on @myvitalside if watching the news increased their levels of stress. 84% of people who answered said that watching the news does increase their stress levels. Now, this is not new news to news stations. News channels, social media platforms, and the horror movie industry all know what happens when neurochemicals pump through the body in response to extreme emotions. This can create an addiction, and our brains can get used to experiencing this addictive feedback loop after each viewing.
Fear gets processed in the amygdala, among other places, and the amygdala then sends a signal to the hypothalamus, which is the hormone control center of the body. The hypothalamus is responsible for communicating with the rest of the body. When that danger signal is received, the hypothalamus sends a message via the autonomic nerves to the adrenal medulla, and when the adrenal glands receive this message, they respond by releasing adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline is known as the “fight or flight” hormone, which alerts the body to stay and fight or get away from the dangerous situation. Cortisol is known as “the stress hormone,” which makes it known that the rest of the body is in danger. Adrenaline and cortisol have a HUGE systemic response. These hormones can cause you to breathe faster, the heart to beat faster, hypervigilance, anxiety, insomnia, and contracts muscles cells. This can be good in the face of danger (like dodging that car that’s barreling toward you) but it can also occur when watching the news.
When you watch the news and experience this stress response, this can also leave you with feelings on unwanted negativity. This is because the body and brain have already memorized this stress response, and this is the same response that was turned on during a traumatic event that may have caused Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Because of this, elevated levels of stress hormones can cause you to relive or think about traumatic events that have happened.
What We Know:
Catastrophic events have occurred throughout the history of the world, but we now have access to them live due to modern technology. Every day it may feel like the world is coming to an end because of this real-time access. According to trauma therapist Dr. Susanne Babbel, after experiencing a stress response, our brains should return to growth-and-repair- our natural response. But when we’re exposed to trauma (whether we see it on the screen or experience it in person) repeatedly, we can remain in a state of constant stress. This can cause adrenal fatigue, brain fog, insomnia, depression, and persistent stress. This inundation of news and trauma is known as “disaster fatigue.” Yes, there’s a word for this because more and more people are speaking out about their negative emotions after viewing the news.
The Good News:
The good thing about how the brain changes when watching stressful events is that we have conscious control to think about this stress differently. There are many ways we can combat this stress like:
1. Find your own news limit. That may mean turning the news off while you watch dinner OR minimizing your viewing time to 10 minutes a day. Find what works for you. You can also make a point to turn off Fox News and subscribe to “The Happy Newspaper,” which is a newspaper designed on a positive platform- not to avoid what’s going on in the world- but to embrace the good that is happening.
2. Have a daily practice that calms the central nervous system. This can look like 10 minutes of breathing, exercising, or participating in another practice (like Vital-Side) that calms the stress response and makes the body feel good.
3. Create a community that prioritizes self-care and healing. When we start to relate to each other on a more primal level, understanding what feeds us individually and collectively, we create a community of authenticity and strength.
And if you are already addicted to watching the news, decrease watching time by 5 minutes every day. Time yourself the first day and decrease the news time by 5 minutes every day for 1 week. At the end of this week, how do you feel? This is a good way to test your limits of news watching.
What you focus on determines your experience of life.
Let’s consciously decide today to put a focus on the things that make us feel strong, loved, grateful, and inspired.