Ms Bridie James
Are you stressed about rising interest rates?
Or inflation? A recession? Property prices? All of the above? I’d be surprised if you weren’t. Our news feeds are full of frightening stories and dire predictions, and we can find ourselves drawn to these grim news stories again and again even though they increase our stress and worry. Why do we torment ourselves this way?
Negative news stories are simply more attention-grabbing – they sell more newspapers and get more clicks. This is because humans tend to have an inbuilt ‘negativity bias’, meaning that we’re drawn to negative/shocking information more than positive/happy information.
This negativity bias makes a lot of sense if you consider our evolutionary history – prioritising ‘negative’ information (like which animals were dangerous) helped early humans learn quickly about the dangers of their environment, and thus increased their chance of survival. And though our world has changed, we still carry those same adaptations of our ancestors, even though those adaptations may not be as useful as they once were.
What to do if you find yourself stuck in negative news gloom?
Practice noticing when you’re slipping into a cycle of reading negative news stories. Once you’re aware, your choices open up about what to do instead.
Remind yourself that the stories have been chosen to grab your attention, rather than being selected to create a balanced view of the whole situation. Be especially sceptical of predictions – it’s usually the most shocking ones that get published, not necessarily the most accurate.
Consider limiting how many times you check or watch the news each day. Be particularly wary of sites that allow endless scrolling – this feature is designed to be addictive.
If you decide to limit your exposure to news, plan for what you’ll do instead of reading/watching the news at those usual times. It’s much easier to change a habit if you’re substituting the old behaviour with something, rather than just sitting there feeling restless.
Try re-balancing the negativity bias by consciously seeking out more positive news stories. It’s easy to forget that there’s still good in the world.
I know that you will already have other ways of coping with stress and uncertainty. So I’d encourage you to be on the lookout for moments when the stress and worry bother you less. What are you doing in those moments that you want to keep doing?
As always, if you’re really struggling or feeling stuck, it’s probably a good idea to speak with a health professional.
Written by Ms Bridie James, clinical psychologist.