Not too long ago, it was customary for people to either wait to see what was happening in the world on the nightly news on television or read about it in the newspaper. We consumed our news once or perhaps twice per day, and from there we were largely separated from it aside from small tidbits some were exposed to on the radio. This was during the pre-Internet era, and it was also mostly a time when news outlets were supposed to be more objective in their reporting. In short, the problem of news addiction did not really exist.
In recent generations, the onset of cable television with its own options for 24-hour news networks, complete with their own built-in biases along with the Internet has created an explosion of news availability. Those who want to can now spend their entire day consuming news stories in just about any medium. People can also search out sources of information that tend to agree with their own perspectives, and all of this has led to a sharp rise in the number of people who struggle with news addiction.
This developing reality has generated attention in the medical and research worlds, and experts are beginning to study this phenomenon. One recently published study looked at the connection between news addiction and physical and mental health, and the results were startling. Our team of Orange County mental health professionals at SoCal Empowered would like to share these results with you in hopes that you’ll take a look at your own lifestyle and make some adjustments if necessary.
First: Context Matters
In addition to the development of new opportunities for consumption that help feed news addiction, we should also acknowledge that the news around the world in recent years has been dominated by negativity, and for valid reasons. Just a sampling of nationwide or worldwide ongoing events include:
- The Russia/Ukraine War
- School shootings
- Political polarization
- The COVID-19 pandemic
- Extreme weather/climate events
This list could continue indefinitely, but most if not all of us would agree that these issues bring about stress and anxiety for a lot of people who are not even directly involved in them.
About the News Addiction Study Methodology
The study, which can be found here, was published in August of 2022, and it was completed by three researchers who looked directly at the news addiction issue. The methodology involved 1,100 American adults completing an exhaustive online survey that delved into their news consumption habits as well as their physical and mental health.
One of the first points that the researchers make before even digging into the data is that news addiction is a problematic behavior, but it should be differentiated from someone who is considered a “news junkie.” The latter is someone who is interested in news but who enjoys a relatively healthy relationship to it. Someone who suffers from news addiction is someone who tends to consume negative, tragic and stressful news on a large scale.
Examples of questions asked or statements made on the survey that prompted a response of agreement or disagreement include:
- I become so absorbed in the news that I forget the world around me.
- My mind is frequently occupied with thoughts about the news.
- Reading and watching the news reduces my anxious feelings.
- I find it difficult to stop reading or watching the news.
- I often do not pay attention at school or work because I am reading or watching the news.
These statements were used to obtain a measure of the following types of potentially problematic news consumption dimensions:
Results of the News Addiction Study
Based on all of the factors above as well as others, the survey responses revealed the following percentages of people fell into the corresponding groups with regards to their news consumption:
- Non-problematic – 28.7 percent
- Minimally problematic – 27.5 percent
- Moderately problematic – 27.3 percent
- Severely problematic – 16.5 percent
In addition to the questions and statements above, all of the respondents were asked to describe whether or not they had experienced mental health difficulties or problems with their physical health during the previous 30 days.
Not surprisingly, nearly three-quarters of the people who were seen as severely problematic with their news consumption reported mental health challenges during that timeframe compared to only 8 percent of respondents from the other groups. More than 60 percent of the severely problematic news consumers reported some type of physical problem during the same 30-day period, compared to only 6.1 percent of those in other groups.
What This All Means
The most obvious conclusion that one can draw from this news addiction study is that watching, listening to or reading too much news – particularly serious and stressful news – brings a cost with it to some people that can be heavy. For those who may be wondering if this includes them, we’d suggest the following for a few days to see if it makes a difference:
- Set time limits on how much news you read, listen to or watch.
- Stay off or substantially reduce your time on social media.
- Spend some of your news time reading uplifting or positive stories.
- Pay attention to yourself. If you start feeling stressed while consuming news, walk away from it.
- Give yourself some “quiet” time every day.
This may help some people, but unfortunately others may have mental health problems that do not allow them to simply reduce their time in front of the screen. News addiction can be a symptom of underlying problems. If you’re concerned that this may be you or someone you love, then you need to contact our team at SoCal Empowered as soon as possible. We can help you decide if you need professional help, and if so, where to find the best help for your situation, whether that’s working with us or not. Contact us today to get the help you need.