You might live across an ocean from a tragic event, but with social media and the 24-hour news cycle, you’re really just a click away. The Internet and TV stream news about police brutality, terrorist attacks, rapes, kidnappings, mass shootings and other troubling events.
With Facebook status updates, you can be “in the know” while you’re smack-dab in the middle of giving birth!
But just how much bad news is too much for our well-being? How do we stay informed without being overwhelmed? You know you’re close to hitting your limit when you start hearing rumblings about another one of “those” videos, and your heart starts hammering in your chest and dread snakes down your spine—long before you’ve seen the images.
“Research has shown that there is a physical connection between what we think and the parts of the body that our brains control,” said Willa Decker, a clinical assistant professor and nurse specialist in psychiatric mental health with the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing. “Intense negative emotions can alter our perspective and contribute to our having headaches, high blood pressure, digestive issues, a weakened immune system or other health issues.”
You will have to determine your personal threshold for exposure to bad news, Decker said. Finding balance can be tricky, but it is important.
“Self-awareness is key, the point at which negative news affects our emotional and physical well-being is different for each individual,” Decker said. “But, if you notice that your heart rate has increased, you’ve become irritable, overly emotional, or if you just feel drained, you might be experiencing the adverse effects of the bad news, and it may be time for you to step away and regroup.”
Being bombarded with bad news isn’t just a health hazard for adults. Children, too, can be inundated by disturbing stories, tweets, images and headlines throughout the course of a normal day.
“Whether children are exposed to tragic news through conversations with their peers, television, social media or other channels, they are also vulnerable to its potential harmful health effects,” Decker said. “Children may not know how to express what is bothering them, so they may become quite or aggressive for no apparent reason.
“We know that children whose parents are actively involved in their lives have an easier time adjusting through difficult circumstances. So, communicating with our children about what happened, reassuring them about their own well-being and modeling healthy responses can make a tremendous difference.”
One good coping mechanism—for yourself and your children—is to set limits on news consumption.
“It might be helpful to schedule a reasonable amount of time each day to catch up on the news, and then focus the remainder of your day on living,” Decker said. “Taking care of ourselves by making sure we are getting enough rest, eating well and exercising is an important part of our overall well-being, and it can go a long way toward mitigating our exposure to so much disheartening news.”