How to Ignore the News, and Whether or Not You Should

man reading the news

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Key Takeaways

  • Thanks to social media, consuming news is almost unavoidable.
  • But the news can elicit a chronic stress response, which can take a toll on the body and mind.
  • Limiting news consumption and setting boundaries can be an important act of self-care.

Humans evolved the fight or flight response to evaluate threats based on the information at hand. It's helped our species survive for centuries. But now, in the digital age, the sheer amount of information we have access to has skyrocketed. And as we consume news at an increasingly rapid rate, our minds and bodies are affected.

Research has shown that repeated activation of the stress response can have a major impact on physical and mental health, like contributing to high blood pressure and heart disease, as well as depression, anxiety and addiction. Not to mention, consistently reading articles or watching videos about faraway tragedies can affect mood and daily functioning.

So, how can we manage? Most of us walk the line of wanting to stay informed and involved while also knowing the onslaught of negative news affects our mental state. Is it selfish to cut ourselves off? Is ignorance really bliss? Experts say balance is the key.

The Accessibility of News

Thanks to social media, even if you're not in the habit of watching your local broadcast news or picking up a newspaper, it's very likely you'll come across something news-related. It's almost unavoidable.

"News has never been more available, being updated on a minute-by-minute basis," says counseling psychologist Raffaello Antonino, PsyD. "If you have an internet connection and a smartphone, you can theoretically remain in touch with all sorts of events happening worldwide. News will find you even if you're not looking for it."

Raffaello Antonino, PsyD

News will find you even if you're not looking for it.

— Raffaello Antonino, PsyD

We are delivered content about natural disasters, senseless violence, family tragedies, political conflicts, celebrity drama and countless other "newsworthy" events every day. Regardless of whether they're local or even applicable to our own lives, they can still elicit that stress response. And it's easier than ever to get wrapped up in a story or go down a rabbit hole of information.

Becoming emotionally absorbed by the news is a slippery slope, as checking news apps for updates can become obsessive behavior. If this is something you see in yourself, Antonino argues that it isn't selfish to limit your news consumption.

The Importance of Time Limits

Clinical psychologist Roberta Ballard, PhD, says it's natural to care about what's going on in the world. But it's all about balance. If you're someone who cares, Ballard doesn't recommend trying to make yourself not care. Rather, find the middle ground.

"Caring is part of what makes us good humans," Ballard says. "However, it is alright to not know every detail of circumstances that are completely beyond your control... One strategy I have employed with many of my clients is asking the question 'What can I control here?' When someone can find a way to help or contribute to a solution, while also limiting or taking a break from news, it tends to help them."

She points to the example of the news regarding the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. People around the world have been watching events unfold in disbelief, and this can certainly affect mood and daily functioning. But if you're thousands of miles away from the conflict and still find yourself spiraling, you must ask yourself, what can I control here? Making a donation to an organization aiding Ukrainian refugees and limiting yourself to a 15-minute news check-in each day can help you stay involved without overdoing it.

Roberta Ballard, PhD

When someone can find a way to help or contribute to a solution, while also limiting or taking a break from news, it tends to help them.

— Roberta Ballard, PhD

Time limits on news consumption are helpful in any context. Choose a time during the day in which you can spend up to 30 minutes catching up on news articles or videos. Set a timer if you have to.

Consider also the time of day you watch or read news. If you're scrolling first thing in the morning, it's likely to set the pace for the rest of your day. And it's recommended never to do so before bed or an important event, says trauma and anxiety therapist Lauran Hahn, LMHC.

"Watching unpleasant news activates our sympathetic nervous system, which sends signals to our brain and body that say, “do something and do it now,'" Hahn says. "This may be helpful when it is time to take action or advocate, but this isn’t helpful if we are trying to settle down from a long and stressful day."

Setting Boundaries

In the same way that boundaries are beneficial to our identity and relationships, they are beneficial in news consumption, as well. Licensed clinical social worker Natasha Bryant, LCSW recommends using your emotional responses to news as a guide to setting boundaries.

"Having all the information about what's happening in the world means nothing if this information is causing you to feel anxious, angry or depressed," Bryant says. "Your self-care is much more important because that is what's going to help you respond to the information in healthy ways." 

Natasha Bryant, LCSW

Having all the information about what's happening in the world means nothing if this information is causing you to feel anxious, angry or depressed.

— Natasha Bryant, LCSW

For example, if push notifications popping up on your phone lead to heightened anxiety, turn them off. It might also be helpful to choose news outlets that don't cause emotional distress, like shows that use humor to comment on current events.

It's just as important to give yourself the time and space to process the information afterward. Journaling or discussing what you've seen or heard with friends can be helpful.

Striking the Balance

While limiting news consumption or taking breaks can be an important act of self-preservation, it's also crucial to keep the concept of balance in mind. Completely closing yourself off from the world around you can be isolating and even dangerous.

"Being part of a community also means at least being acquainted with political and economic situations both locally and globally," Antonino says. "So, although it's okay, and perhaps healthier, not to be obsessed with news and watch and read compulsively daily, it's essential to be at least aware of what happens both in your country and the world."

What This Means For You

It's not selfish to limit your news consumption or take a break completely. Gauge your emotional responses to the news and set boundaries accordingly.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Harvard Health. Understanding the stress response.

  2. Kossek EE. Managing work-life boundaries in the digital ageOrganizational Dynamics. 2016;45(3):258-270. doi:10.1016/j.orgdyn.2016.07.010