2016 has been a brutal year to be a news junkie.
Besides the wild and often loathsome election coverage, the international humanitarian disasters (currently still unfolding in Syria), and the celebrity deaths, obsessively following the headlines has pretty much been a regular guaranteed dose of depression and anxiety.
So what should you do to counteract all the misery brought to you by your news channel of choice? Writer David Cain offered a simple if radical idea recently on his blog Raptitude recently: just switch it off.
Giving up following every subplot of our hyper-caffeinated 24-hour news cycle not only doesn't make you ill informed, he argues in the thoughtful post. Instead, it is likely to free up time for better sources of information (like, say, books) and more meaningful engagement with the world (and as I note in the last point below, he's hardly alone in his suggestion that just switching off might be good for your mental health).
1. You'll feel better.
Less TV news and clicking on every article that comes through your Facebook feed is almost certain to make you happier and less stressed. And no, insists Cain, that's not just "because you've stuck your head in the sand."
"That assumes the news is the equivalent of having your head out in the fresh, clear air," he argues, but "what you can glean about the world from the news isn't even close to a representative sample of what is happening in the world." Instead, news channels select for the sensational and shocking. "So the idea that you can get a meaningful sense of the "state of the world" by watching the news is absurd."
The bottom line, according to Cain, is that you'll feel much better if you consume only a small, curated selection of in-depth sources rather than whatever CNN or Fox serves up. "What appears on the news is not 'The conscientious person's portfolio of concerns'. What appears is whatever sells, and what sells is fear, and contempt for other groups of people. Curate your own portfolio. You can get better information about the world from deeper sources," he recommends.
2. You'll actually act more.
Most of us watch the news because we feel staying informed is our duty as concerned and conscientious citizens of the world, but as Cain points out, just staying on top of the headlines is actually a pretty meager form of civic and community participation. Confronting your news junkie ways can actually free up more time and energy for actually meaningful action.
"I wonder if there's a kind of 'substitution effect' at work here. The sense of 'at least I care' may actually prevent us from doing something concrete to help, because by watching sympathetically we don't quite have to confront the reality that we're doing absolutely nothing about it," Cain writes. By watching TV "we can remain uninvolved without feeling uninvolved.
This may be the biggest reason we fear turning off the news. And it might be the best reason to do it."
3. You might avoid PTSD symptoms (yes, really)
This one is a special bonus reason brought to you by recent psychology research rather than Cain. Apparently, repeatedly watching distressing news events can literally give you some of the symptoms of PTSD.
"A recent study has found that almost one-quarter of individuals had PTSD-like symptoms from following events like 9/11 and suicide bombings on social media. The more people viewed the events, researchers found, the greater the subsequent trauma they experienced," reports PsyBlog.
Looking for even more reasons to quit your news habit? The Raptitude post offers three more good ones.
Would you consider cutting back on your news consumption in 2017?