How a news fast can rescue your mood

 In Mind, MOM

I first heard of taking a news fast about 15 years ago. I was in therapy for the first time after a round of panic attacks had me thinking I was dying or losing my mind or both. Fun times. It was there I learned of Dr. Andrew Weil and his book, 8 Weeks to Optimum Health.

Weil suggests tons of small changes we can make to boost physical and mental well being. One such change is a news fast–take a few days, or even a whole week, off of news–TV, radio, online. Just tear yourself away and catch your breath.

Here’s why I do this from time to time, and especially now, when it seems like the whole world has turned inside out.

How news affects mood

Can you relate? You tell yourself you’re just going online quickly to see what’s up. You read. Then you see a headline that has you steaming. Your brain is halfway through drafting a wicked retort. You type furiously. You delete. You type again. Your blood pressure is drug-worthy.

You scroll your news sources of choice, bounce from headline to depressing headline: Child abuse, domestic violence, terrorism, climate change, human rights violations, injustice.

You don’t feel the two hours that passed or the eight fingernails you’ve devoured. What you do feel is the after shocks. Dizzy. Sighing. Wasted. Angry. Frustrated. Sad. Destitute. Hopeless. Helpless. Shocked. And then you dive back in for more.

Here’s why news affects us.

First, news stories are designed to pack a punch. They focus on not only actionable information, things we need to function day to day, but also on providing the information that will draw us in. The old adage of “if it bleeds, it leads” means stories that contain violence will be in your face as much as possible.

News is designed to draw us in with a sense of urgency. EVERYTHING is breaking news.

Second, we are built to pay attention to things that may pose a threat. So we tune in to this barrage of news with our antennae up.

Third, when we habitually take in headline after headline of things that make us fearful, sad, anxious, out of control our world view shifts. We catastrophize the worries in our own lives the more negative news we are exposed to.

It has implications, also, for how we see the world around us. People tend to believe crime rates are higher than they actually are, often because of consuming higher amounts of TV or online news. We see the reports, we feel like it’s creeping into our lives at every turn.

Here’s why in today’s political climate

I can’t address news without addressing the current political state. Whatever your political view, it may feel like the world is falling apart. Closely held beliefs are being challenged at seemingly every turn. The future feels uncertain. Frightening, even. We need the media in these times more than ever.

However, we are bombarded by sensational stories designed to get us pissed off, to stir us up, whether for “our side” or against “the others.” There are actions at play that many of us may never have come face to face with.

But if your grandparents are still alive, ask them about propaganda. Ask them about facing uncertainty and fear. Or ask your family members who went through the Vietnam era. We, as humans, face disruption. We fight for our beliefs. We struggle. We find new ways. News and media will play a big part in moving through this.

We need a news fast even more now

We need the media. Let me rephrase that. We need ethical media, organizations that provide news and analysis, that stay as close as possible to the middle of the road, politically. (Questioning authority does not equal bias, by the way. It’s the job of the people to hold our representatives accountable.)

This chart goes a decent way at guiding you through the political spectrum and sensationalism of certain organizations.

News Fast

by redheaddeb and posted to http://imgur.com

News is vital. If we live in a democracy, or a republic, and we have a say in our government, it’s our right, some say duty, to stay informed, to make rational choices, to effect change.

But we cannot possibly take it all in. We cannot possibly act on every bit of information out there. It’s too much and it does overwhelm.

If you feel yourself in the rabbit hole, do this now. Take a news fast.

How to take a news fast

  1. Turn off notifications on your phone for any service that sends you headlines: e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, AP, etc. Fear of missing out isn’t a joke, and even now, we fear that if we miss one step of what is happening we will be harmed in some way. Trust that you can catch up in a few days, that maybe some of the issues will already be resolved, or that if the world explodes, someone will pick up the phone to call you and tell you about it.
  2. Tell your friends you’re checking out of your social fees for a few days. This holds you accountable and also gives friends a heads-up in case someone sends you an FB message, etc.
  3. Move your chargers away from your bedroom. If you sleep with your phone within hand’s reach, if you have a habit to read it before going to sleep at night and before you get out of bed in the morning, move it. Take the temptation away and replace it with a book. One on paper or on a reader that is NOT connected to the outside world.
  4. Plan for a replacement activity. Make a list of some small things you would do if you had more time. Then pick one and DO IT. Read fiction. Start a gratitude journal. Write a physical letter to your parents about the funny things your kids have been up to. Do ten minutes of yoga. Journal about one thing you’d like to get more involved in and why and how you might take those steps.
  5. Meditate. No kidding. Anxiety and depression grow from being outside the current moment. Practice being exactly where you are right now by focusing on the rhythm of your breath. Not changing it, just feeling it as it flows past your nostrils, cools the back of your throat then fills up your belly and rolls back out again. A few minutes a day will get you in the habit of connecting with the present.
  6. If you are struggling to accept this because of the current political climate, take a read through this article that explains how you can remain politically active-minded and keep your sanity.
  7. Take a moment to jot down how you felt when you’re done fasting, when you decide it’s time to come back in, however long that may be. What worked? What didn’t? Can you come up with a new plan to approach your media consumption going forward?

I do this from time to time, quite subconsciously sometimes. I always feel more grounded and less fearful when I come back to the news. I feel I can process things more easily, feel less drained so quickly, and can better make sense of events and my response.

Read more in 8 Weeks to Optimum Health

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This post contains affiliate links. Pile of newspapers via ShutterStock.com

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Showing 17 comments
  • Tamara
    Reply

    You’ve got a lot of good points.
    I am about to make some changes as we speak: cutting carbs, working out, and unrelated to your post, I sometimes conciously leave my phone alone until I have “achieved” something in the morning.
    But you know what, you can’t escape the news. Even in Switzerland they’re everywhere. Trump’s latest BS is on our hourly radio news we listen to at the office.
    Oooohhhhmmmmmm – my best meditation sound.
    Hugs to you!

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud
      Reply

      yes, you might need to bring in some earplugs to use until you have to be on the phone. 😉 Ohm

  • Dawan
    Reply

    This intressting! I think everyone have this problem about child abuse but ever since I became friend on facebook with an organisation for helping young kids in Nepal and India plus the news in swedish media about child abuse I have been crying and felt quilt that my daughter is ok and they are not and I am not doing a sh*t about it. Sonetimes its good it open peoples eyes and instead of wanting to help people are actually helping.

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud
      Reply

      Totally agree. There is power in seeing people rising up on Facebook. I think we also have to balance that with our own personal needs to stay grounded so that we can do something, help, contribute, discuss, debate, effectively and not let it grind us into the ground to the point where we can’t get out of bed, where we can’t discern between a debate we can let slide and a cause we can really do something positive for.

  • Kate
    Reply

    Such a timely post! I am getting sucked into watching the news on all different mediums and then it’s right down the rabbit hole. Then I need to look up what each thing means, then I need to know the history of it, and on and on. And then it’s way past bedtime. I’m doing yoga to detox and do something for myself, my mind, and my body. And it’s doing my mind wonders. A news fast sounds absolutely wonderful and necessary.

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud
      Reply

      Oh, yes, the looking up of the stuff, and the curiosity behind the background. These are all amazing ways to make sure you are getting a full picture of a story. But wow, where does the time go! The yoga sounds great. I’ll be getting back to this soon I hope. Good luck on the news fast. I’d love to hear how it made you feel if you get a chance to take some time away from the news.

  • Tanya
    Reply

    I’ve basically been doing a news fast for the past decade, living in this Swiss bubble. But now it seems unavoidable. Good advice, let’s see if I can follow it this week and relax.

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud
      Reply

      It’s a strange yet cozy bubble to be in! All the best in your time away from the news!

  • Fiona
    Reply

    Thank you for this. I had a news and social media fast for a week at Christmas and was so much happier. I like your advice about removing your phone from near your bedside. I need to do this! A quick news check before I sleep then I wake up multiple times a night with Trump’s ugly mug giving me nightmares 🙁

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud
      Reply

      It’s amazing isn’t it? The difference can be so surprising and almost hard to get back into the headlines when it’s all done. ha ha ha, no nightmares!!! Don’t do it!!! ha ha ha

  • Amy
    Reply

    I’ve actively avoided going to news websites to get updates on world news, notably after trump won the elections. Maybe it’s denial or me actively choosing to be ignorant, but coming from a mass comms background, u realize that news is never objective. Every journalist or social media-ist come with their own version of reality and of cos, sensationalism always sells. I’m ignorant, but happy in my little bubble, for now at least.

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud
      Reply

      ha ha, the bubble can be one way to protect yourself, that’s for sure. I’ll defend journalists, though. I am/was a journalist. I worked in newspapers and public radio, even a little time at a wire service. I still believe that most journalists, local reporters who have to suss out information and dig around in documents and talk to people in the communities–these are almost always honorable people doing good hard work of finding the facts and constantly practicing keeping their own opinions in a drawer while they work and going through the checks and balances of other reporters and editors who will jump on someone for not playing it straight. Then there are the places where you know you will get only talking heads that support a certain ideology. Probably a little off subject, I know. So I’m sorry. I just hope that maybe everyone doesn’t give up hope on all of media–some media, yes. 😉

  • Claire
    Reply

    I think it’s largely unhealthy to read too much about stuff you just Can. Not. Do. Anything. About. The older I get, the more I think that merely “knowing” about something is often extremely unhelpful, frustrating and anxiety inducing! It’s a strange fact of modern life that the news gives as much importance to a random shooting in Idaho as it does to something that happened down your street (but might not tell you 500 people died in Sri Lanka) so you need to take a step back and focus on what’s actually important to you. What genuinely affects you. And, ultimately, where you can affect change.

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud
      Reply

      It can definitely be hard to know what is more useful. Could the deaths in Sri Lanka prompt you to donate to Doctors Without Borders? Could the shooting in Utah spur discussions about gun laws and have you writing your representatives telling them that you support their action or that you are upset by their actions in Congress? I believe in the power of news. But if you let it, it can trigger such anxiety. Knowing how to consume news thoughtfully is so important and I think news fasts are a great way to maintain some sanity in tough times.

  • Shinta
    Reply

    This is a great read, and comes at the perfect time for me. Although I firmly believe in the idea of a news-fast and a social-media detox, I have problems going about it in a disciplined manner. I watch a viral video that tells me how checking whatsapp or checking facebook likes gives us a kick of dopamine, which is akin to the high when you gamble or do do drugs. I nod my head, agree vehemently, and ironically, I share the video on FB, expecting more FB likes! Getting myself to stay away from news (which I receive mostly via my FB feed) will take some dedicated work. Thank you for your pointers. I am definitely going to try some yoga, and continue with my gratitude journal.

  • Liz Voss
    Reply

    I’ve yet to step away from the news for more than a day at a time, but I am limiting the amount of time each day that I’m allowing myself to do any of this stuff. I could easily do it all day and then be completely mentally beat down.

    So far I’ve been moderately successful. It is one of the behaviors I plan on tracking in my BuJo when it arrives.

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