How to Take Back Control Over the Negative Effects of Sensationalist Media

With the 24-hour news cycle and our ever-increasing connectedness to unfolding events in real time, we are becoming more aware of tragedies and devastation in our world.

Events such as the recent Sri Lankan bombings (rightly) horrify us and it can be tempting to seek out endless media coverage as we try to make sense of what compels people to do such terrible things.

Unfortunately, however, research is emerging that suggests that this strategy is unwise.

It turns out that greater consumption of media coverage of traumatic events can lead to an increase in post traumatic stress symptoms for up to two years afterwards, and greater risk of mental health conditions.

This is concerning, particularly given the fact that items reported by the media often have little correlation with the statistical probability of these events happening in own lives (such as the reporting of crime having increased despite the overall incidence rate declining). We hear stories of violence and poor choices, daily, as these are somehow deemed more ‘newsworthy’.

Another concerning possibility is that impressionable children who are exposed to these constant negative examples of human behaviour may begin to exhibit more aggressive behaviours themselves, become overly anxious, or – at the other extreme – desentized to such content.

So, what is the balance between staying informed and not getting sucked into the vortex of fear and emotional distress? This article has some practical tips, including becoming mindful of our patterns of media consumption and changing them when we discover negative effects, deciding to obtain news from radio if violent imagery sticks, perhaps taking a week long news-cleanse to regain some perspective, or focusing on a cause where we can actually help someone (as opposed to the compassion fatigue that results from endless news consumption).

While we don’t want to advocate switching off from the reality of what is going on around us, neither do we see the value in compounding negative effects on health and wellbeing. Let’s become people who take back control of our consumption, who are moved by tragic events towards compassionate action and ultimately reassured by the knowledge that we have a loving God who chooses to use humans as his feet and hands in this complicated world.

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