I am a former news junkie.
When I was studying at university, I would constantly check the news websites to keep up to date with what was happening in my community and around the world.
My favourite thing to do on a Saturday morning was to sit at the dining table with a coffee and a few pieces of toast, and leisurely read the newspaper from cover to cover (although as an arts student, I must admit that I usually skipped the business pages).
But everything changed one afternoon a few years ago when a world event triggered the anxiety that I still experience today. It was all over the news and social media.
At first, I wanted to be kept up to date and read everything I could find, but then I found that every story I read, instead of making me feel informed, made me feel even worse as I started catastrophising and playing out worst case scenarios in my head.
After a few days of this, enough was enough. I deleted news apps from my phone, and unfollowed news pages on social media.
Years later, though my triggers change, I still avoid reading and listening to the news in case I read something that plunges me back into those all too familiar feelings of anxiety – racing heartbeat, shivers, nausea, and breathlessness.
On my good days, I’ll happily read an article on a specific ‘safe’ subject that someone has sent me. On my bad days, I’ll still walk out of the room when the news bulletin comes on during a TV ad break. Sadly, I think the days of me religiously reading a newspaper from end to end are far behind me.
It’s just become a part of how I live my life, but blissful ignorance has started to take its toll. I honestly miss knowing what’s going on in the world!
Me, the world and the media
So it’s really got me thinking over the past few months – am I really that soft, is the world really that bad, or is the media just sensationalising everything? Well, I think it’s a little bit of all three of those.
Firstly, I completely recognise that everyone gets a bit anxious when they read a scary headline, but other people can usually just let it pass by and then move onto the next thing.
I, however, grab hold of it for dear life, play it over and over in my head, and add my own spin on it for good measure. This is what my anxiety does – I own that and I’m working on some strategies.
In terms of the state of the world, yes there’re some really crazy things going on – conflict in the Middle East, American politics, an increase in diseases like measles, not to mention climate change.
Overall though, are these types of things actually happening more frequently and at a more extreme level than they used to, or do we just know more about them all over the world because of the rise of internet and social media, and the way this has changed how we access the news?
I’m certainly not qualified to answer that, but you’ll also get a different answer depending who you ask!
And then we have the media. In an instantaneous world with smart phones and constant connectivity, media outlets are competing with hundreds of others to get you to click on their story.
So of course their stories and headlines are sensationalised with a lot of doom and gloom in order to get you to click. No one is interested in clicking on fluffy good news stories anymore.
Is it just me?
So, there are a range of issues and contributing factors to my relationship with the news. What I find interesting though is that I’m not the only one!
Much to my surprise (funny how mental illness isolates you so you always think you’re the only one – doh!), the number of people with anxiety triggered by external factors like war, violence, disasters, politics, and climate change is steadily on the rise and is becoming more and more common.
This is not just me.
I feel like this gives me both good and bad news though.
While it’s comforting that it’s not just me, this means that there is a bigger problem in our society. So how can I stay informed about the world in this climate, without compromising my mental health and sending myself into despair?
If I’m honest, that’s a question that I just don’t know the answer to, but I’m keen to explore it further over the next few months. The world’s a scary place for sure, but it’s also a beautiful one and I need to get that balance back.
“I remain confident of this; I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalms chapter 27, verse 13)
Rebecca Howan is from Wellington, New Zealand, where she works as an Executive Assistant in the humanitarian sector. She worships and serves at The Salvation Army, and is passionate about music, travelling the world and building community.
You can read Rebecca’s previous columns at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/rebecca-howan.html