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Don’t Let the News Hurt Your Health

Don’t Let the News Hurt Your Health

From train wrecks and earthquakes to wars and killer diseases, round-the-clock TV news delivers the world’s most harrowing horrors right to your living room. It’s hard to stop watching -- but more and more research suggests too much bad news can be as damaging for viewers as it is for those affected directly.

You read that right. In one national survey of 2,500 Americans, one in four admitted to feeling a great deal of stress in the previous month -- and for 40% of those folks one of the major sources of tension was the news. And when University of California, Irvine, researchers interviewed 4,500 people a year after the Boston Marathon bombing, they found that those who viewed, read or listened to six or more hours of news coverage daily had more stress symptoms than people at the scene of the bombings. In another study, researchers found that people who watched four or more hours of coverage of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks had more physical and psychological ailments three years later than those who watched less.

Over half of us get our news from TV; another 20% use the internet -- two sources that can expose you to images, replayed again and again, that are emotionally searing. These tips can help you stay informed, without letting the news get you down.

Watch it once, then turn it off. TV news replays the most gut-wrenching video footage over and over. That doesn’t mean you have to stick around for their re-runs. Make it a rule to limit your views of traumatic events to once, then change the channel -- or better yet, turn off the TV. Take a walk, read a book or have a chat with a friend or family member.

Get your news the old-fashioned way. Instead of taking in whatever some TV news producer decides you should be seeing, make your own choices by reading the newspaper. Since you’re reading this column, you’ve already got a subscription or know how to access your favorite papers online. Keep it up. Newspapers update their coverage of major events ‘round the clock, so you won’t miss a thing -- and you’ll be in charge of the information and images you invite into your head and heart.

Use your ears. Prefer to skip TV and Internet news photographs and videos completely? You can stay informed by tuning in your favorite radio station (online these days). News radio keeps you current with snippets, while long-format programs like National Public Radio’s All Things Considered give you more in-depth coverage.

Take care of yourself and your loved ones. Limit children’s exposure to traumatic news coverage. Encourage kids to talk about their feelings and fears. Share your own with a relative or friend, or write about them in a journal. And skip TV news before bed!

Follow Mr. Rogers’ classic advice. When you’re viewing crisis news coverage, do what the late host of the popular children’s show suggested long ago: look for the helpers. “To this day, especially in times of 'disaster' … I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers -- so many caring people in this world," Rogers wrote in a 1986 newspaper column.

Be a helper too. Consider donating to a medical group fighting a disease outbreak half a world away or contribute to a good cause in your own hometown. This may counter the feelings of powerlessness that can come from viewing the harrowing details of a crisis. When you take time to help people cope with disaster or repair their lives you can express your concerns and affirm that every caring individual can be part of the solution. Added bonus: Helping others makes your body younger so you’ll be able to better cope with stressful news.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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