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Does the way we receive news affect our mental health?

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RATINGS! RATINGS! RATINGS!

Television ratings are essential to media organizations. Therefore, it is no wonder why every headline and every story are designed to captivate your attention. As media consumers, we are more likely to subscribe to a negative headline then we are a positive one. Why? It holds our attention because it has a significant emotional impact on our brains. Thus, you are more likely to remember negative news than positive news.

With continuous negative headlines and crises, you are more likely to tune into the news for updates. The stress is a driving force in your desire to watch more. You crave the news to stay updated and feel in the know.

It is a 24-hour news cycle.

With smartphones and tablets, the news is available at our fingertips. We know everything that is happening worldwide at all times. It is impossible to ignore the news or not be affected by it.

In 2017, the APA conducted a survey of Americans. Over 50% reported that the news stresses them out. Exposure to the news led to anxiety, fatigue, and interrupted sleep.

The negative, fear-mongering news headlines are overwhelming. What we take in directly affects our nervous system. Our brains register these frightening headlines as threats, initiating a fight or flight response. When the nervous system is affected by stress and fear, your body is likely to release stress hormones (ex. cortisol and adrenaline). The more news we take in, the more often we experience stress responses, the more our mental health declines and physical symptoms occur (fatigue, anxiety, depression, sleep difficulty).

The news affects our mental health.

As you can see, the way we consume news can affect our mental health. On a continuous loop of bad, negative, heartbreaking, or terrifying news can have devastating effects on both our mental and physical health.

High stress levels are linked to higher levels of anxiety, increased risk of depression, mental exhaustion, heart disease, weakened immune system, etc. Therefore, it is essential we change the way we consume the news.

  • Before you turn on the news or check your smartphone social media accounts, check in with yourself. Are you in the right headspace to receive negative / stressful news?
  • Give yourself a break. Make it a habit to only check applications and news channels a couple of times a day or week (depending on situation and your comfort). You are allowed to disconnect from the media and focus on the world in front of you. You can do this through practicing mindfulness exercises.
  • Pay attention to who is delivering the news. Try to only obtain news from sources you find to be reliable, who do research before “breaking” news.
  • Practice self-care after receiving the news. The news can affect your emotional wellness. Practicing self-care or utilizing coping mechanisms can help to reduce the effect / impact.
  • Set boundaries when discussing the news with others. If someone brings up a topic you are not comfortable discussing or not in the headspace to discuss, be assertive. You do not have to be exposed to more negative news or increase exposure to negative headlines when you do not want to.

When watching the news, listen to your mind and your body. How are you being affected? What can you do to reduce the impact?

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Is empathy a thing of the past?

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Feeling heard and understood is a human need.

Have you ever needed someone to talk to who just understands? You were looking for empathy. Empathy is how we connect with others. Essentially, empathy is recognizing and understanding the thoughts and feelings of someone else. Empathy is an important part of our relationship with others. Furthermore, empathy is an important part of our relationship with ourselves. By getting in touch with our own emotions, we can learn to understand others’ emotions. This allows us to see things from their point of view.

Empathy is important.

As mentioned earlier, feeling heard and understood is one of the most basic human desires. We crave an authentic connection—a connection where we can be our true selves without feeling judged. Empathy allows us to connect and build strong relationships.

Furthermore, empathy plays an important role in our moral compass. Empathy is similar to compassion. When we have compassion for other people’s feelings, we are more likely to act in a way that does not hurt them. Without empathy, without compassion, we are often more focused on how we feel and receive things than on how our words or actions may be received. However, the difference between empathy and compassion is action. Empathy is passive, meaning we connect to one’s feelings. Compassion, on the other hand, is active, meaning we choose to act to help someone. For example, empathy is “I am sorry for your loss” because I have been there too and know what it is like to lose a loved one. On the other hand, compassion is empathy plus I am going to start a meal train for you to take off the pressure of feeding your family for a few weeks.

Empathy is not sympathy.

Empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably. However, empathy and sympathy are very different terms. Unlike compassion and empathy, sympathy is not about understanding someone’s feelings. Rather, sympathy is about feeling sad for someone else who is struggling. Sympathy is simply, “I am sorry for your loss.” Whereas, empathy was “I am sorry” because I can relate to your feelings. And, compassion was, “I am sorry, I have been there too, I am going to help you.”

When we are struggling, we often desire empathy and / or compassion, not necessarily sympathy. Sympathy is not a connection. And, at the base of all human need is the desire for connection.

Are we raising a generation without empathy?

Social media has blessed us with the ability to connect with anyone from anywhere around the world with the touch of a button. Unfortunately, social media has also provided us with the ability to communicate without seeing how people receive our content. Therefore, we have a whole generation learning to communicate based solely on their own point of view and no ability to see the other person’s reaction. We also have the power to push our energy into other people’s lives. Think about the mean comments people write, including to people they do not know. This has created a sense of entitlement where we believe that other people should receive our energy, even if its negative energy filled with hate and pain.

With the benefits and the drawbacks of social media, the question at hand is “is empathy a thing of the past?”

My opinion.

Empathy is a trait that many of us are born with. Empathy can also be learned through emotional training. Many of us are naturally empathetic, but that empathy is not being cultivated. For example, we spend most of our time communicating behind screens. Especially since March 2020, most of us have been primarily virtual. Over the past year, we engaged with screens more than we did with other human beings, face to face. Imagine growing up with that same scenario, where 90% of your communication is done through a screen—think phones, social media, school computers, television, video games. The world around you is you and a screen that allows access to the whole world.

The next generation is not growing up without empathy. Instead, this generation is growing up in a world that discourages the cultivation of empathy. There is no chance to truly connect, not with ourselves and not with others. Because of the amazing advantages technology and social media have provided us, we have started to forget the importance of building deeper connections. Furthermore, we have not been exposed to seeing the fallout of a lack of empathy behind a computer screen. When we press “send,” we do not see the person, how they receive it, or how it affects them.

Remember, feeling heard and understood is a human need. Social media can help bring us closer to people who also understand us. Social media can also bring us closer to people who choose to be mean and share content without thinking. Therefore, social media itself is not the problem, but rather the lack of true connection is.

Empathy is not a thing of the past; empathy is a very much alive. Thus, it is essential we start encouraging ourselves, our loved ones, and the younger generation to connect with the person on the other end of the screen—not simply the screen itself.