Five ways to stop feeling overwhelmed by the news

Ammar Kalia


Limit the time spent reading news

“Headline anxiety” is a growing problem. A report from Ofcom last week found that 78% of Britons are concerned about their internet use, while more than half of Americans surveyed by the American Psychological Association in 2017 said the political environment was a significant source of stress. Psychoanalytical psychotherapist Prof Brett Kahr says: “People are overwhelmed and bombarded by every type of communication. You can feel like a dartboard, being hit by little shards of news – none of which is personalised or compassionate, so it can feel like a psychologically persecutory experience.” One way to reduce the impact of the non-stop news cycle is to use screen-time trackers, available on iOS and Android, to limit the time you spend reading or watching the news on your mobile.

Turn off push notifications

If the urge to scroll is too strong to resist, then at least turning off your push notifications from news apps can stop you from being assailed with breaking events. A 2016 study found that push notifications “exerted a negative influence on cognitive function” through disruption to daily tasks, while another from 2015 stated they “may create stress due to information overload”.

Read the good news

Academic Hans Rosling refers to “factfulness” as a means of keeping world news in perspective. If we focus on the bigger picture, such as the proportion of people living in extreme poverty halving in the past 20 years, it may be easier to remain optimistic. Rosling calls it “understanding as a source of mental peace”. He says: “When you hear about something terrible, calm yourself by asking: if there had been a positive improvement, would I have heard about that?”

Prioritise trusted news sources

It is now well known that social media can magnify the significance of fake news. The Ofcom report found that 70% of Britons want to see government regulation for platforms. Eric Carlsson, a professor in media and communication studies, says: “There has been a crisis of knowledge and truth owing to fake news, much of which is spread on the unregulated platforms of social media, so we must interrogate these sources more thoroughly.” Psychotherapist Dr Graham Music adds that social media is “hyperstimulating – it doesn’t allow you to be still – so it can feed into the notion of impending threat”. Find your news instead, then, through verified and trusted publications.

No news before bed

Research has shown that screen use before bed resets our internal clock and disrupts sleep, so reading the news onscreen before bed can make your mornings even more anxious and tiring. “Self-care routines in the evening are so important,” says Music. “Even if we’ve read anxiety-inducing news during the day, sleep can restore us.”