My husband has a habit of watching the morning news for the first 30 minutes of his morning. Pretty soon, I had a habit of watching the news as well. I decided that I was waiting for the weather report (although I could have easily looked up the weather app on my phone) and, perhaps, sports. Well, something serendipitous happened about a month ago. Our favorite Raleigh-based TV news station was taken off the lineup of our cable provider. We were both disappointed and tried for a few weeks to find a substitute. Nothing seemed to click. Didn’t like the weather person or that all the news stories were solely about the North Carolina coast–where we haven’t ventured to in several years (I know, I know. Please don’t judge). So why is this serendipitous? Well, my husband figured out that he could get our old channel on the computer. In his office. Out of my visual field and listening range. My diet of thirty minutes of news was cut off. And it’s been surprising bliss.
At the same time that we were trying to figure out how to get our news fix, I suddenly started running into articles on the effects of news stories on our brains, attitude and demeanor. The universe was sending me a sign. I started to intentionally avoid the news. If I was at the airport, I’d go into a restaurant that didn’t have the news on. I turned off the radio in the car and flipped on some classical music. I started to figure out that I was less anxious. My 30 minutes I freed up turned into more meditation and learning time. So what initially seemed like a big disappointment is now a big win.
Here are the 4 upsides of turning off the news:
- My overall day is better. I am more optimistic. I’m not dwelling on which Triangle city has the most homicides or crazy new law the legislature is trying to pass or whether or not the schools need to be rezoned again. There is scientific proof that even as little as 3 minutes of negative news can affect your entire day. 3 MINUTES! As Shawn Achor wrote for Harvard Business Review, “Just a few minutes spent consuming negative news in the morning can affect the entire emotional trajectory of your day…Individuals who watched just three minutes of negative news in the morning had a whopping 27% greater likelihood of reporting their day as unhappy six to eight hours later compared to the positive condition.” I’d rather save the time spent consuming news and focus on having a better day.
- I feel more empowered. There is a sense of helplessness that happens when I watch negative news. 95% of what is on that screen, I can’t do anything about. I get overwhelmed. I want it to change but outside of writing a check to the victims of a tragedy and complaining about the state of our society, I can’t move the needle on it. It’s frustrating. As Achor wrote, “We see the market dropping 500 points or ISIS poised to attack, and we feel powerless to change those outcomes. In psychology, believing our behavior is irrelevant in the face of challenges is called ‘learned helplessness,’ which has been connected with low performance and higher likelihood of depression.” When I turned off the news, I felt more powered up.
- I have more focused attention. Whether I was scrolling through trending news items on an app or watching the local news with a crawl across the bottom of the screen, I was constantly being distracted. Attention here, now attention there, attention over there…SQUIRREL! I would actually sit and watch the weather report and have to back it up because I didn’t take note of when the thunderstorms are expected today. As Noah Shachtman wrote in his article, “The Crawl” Makes You Stupid, “Learning by constantly nibbling at bits and bites from multiple sources at once — what people in the business and computer worlds call “multitasking” — just doesn’t work well. It makes you only more distracted, less effective.” Limiting the distractions from the television screen to my iPhone has helped me focus.
- I am less stressed. I feel calmer throughout the day. I admit that when a big news story filters through like terrorist attacks and the like, I start to feel my stomach clench and my shoulders and neck cramp. But when it filters through, I can now catch myself and shut it down. Because it’s not a daily habit to consume news, I feel calmer and less anxious. As Martijn Schirp wrote in his article, Why Avoiding The News Makes You Smarter, “When you are reading a new news article, or this article now, your brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine doesn’t produce the feel good people normally associate with it, but it causes the craving for the feel good.” I don’t crave it any more.
I know that being informed helps you make better decisions like deciding how you want to vote in this year’s election. I just think that a daily digestion of what is mostly sensationalized and capsulated information is bad for you. Choose your news sources wisely and sparingly.