Do you ever open your Facebook and feel a sense of dread wondering what will appear?
The latest update on a devastating natural disaster? A bewildering press statement from the powers that be?
You do it anyway, because this is one of the ways you connect to the world – warts and all. It’s how you maintain your friendship circles, your work circles; it’s how you keep up with the latest tweets from your local council.
None of us should be switched off from the news. We have a social responsibility to care for others and enable positive change. And keeping up is so easy to do now – thanks to smartphones, the power, quite literally, is in your hands.
But because it’s all so readily available, it can sometimes feel a little overwhelming.
When bad news feels like it’s coming from every angle, it can be helpful to remember that, before social networks revolutionised the way we consume the world’s events (as and when they happen), people chose to interact with the news.
That is, they sat down to watch the 6pm report. Or they bought newspapers to read all about it. This act of choosing does something important – it prepares our brains for an onslaught of information. It doesn’t catch us unawares.
It’s what’s missing in our modern news cycle. When updates are likely to sit next to a pic of your smiling friend and her kid on holiday, this kind of contrasting content gives our brains all sorts of confusing signals. We might feel happiness, warmth and confusion, then sadness or anger – and suddenly we’re in information overload territory.
Psychologist Dr Helen Thomas explains:
“There has been lots of research that links exposure to bad news with feelings of depression, pessimism, sadness and anxiety,” she says.
Is there a cure? If you can, says Helen, take direct action.
“Make a donation, for instance, to a charity that’s assisting with a natural disaster. Or attend a meeting to help stop racism,” she says.
“Whatever it might be, sometimes having some control over an action can help control those feelings of disempowerment.”
Helen also suggests some longer-term strategies to make sure we’re consuming the news in a healthy and responsible way.