It’s been a rough weekend for Ukraine and the world. The news coming out of there is painful and scary to watch.
News anxiety is affecting a lot of people. Over the weekend, one of my friends posted about how the news was making her anxious and discouraged, and overwhelmed, and I know that’s the experience for so many of you, kind, sensitive people.
It’s stressful to care. But even more than that, our brilliant brain believes that we’re in danger when we read about other people who are.
So, in this video, we’re going to talk about how your brain has a reptilian reaction to the news and how this can mess up your life, and you’re going to learn four ways you can actively manage your brain so that the news doesn’t make you depressed or overwhelmed with anxiety.
How News Organizations Manipulate Your Brain
Okay, so the first thing to understand is how news organizations take advantage of your brain. For-profit news organizations don’t care about presenting both sides of the story; they care about activating your amygdala.
They’re taking advantage of the survival part of your brain. The reptilian part of your brain is constantly scanning the world for threats. It wants to survive, so it’s watching for the smallest sign of danger to kick on that fight/flight/freeze response.
Now, your brain has a counter-balancing rest-and-digest response, but those two responses aren’t identical. The threat response is way more sensitive than the rest/digest response, and that makes sense if you’re a lizard, right?
It’s more important to notice any sign of a hawk that might eat you than it is to notice every single bug that you could eat. Right? Basically, your brain scans the world for threats and it highlights them and it zooms in on them. it has a stronger “I have to look” reaction to threats than it does to things that are safe. And so, news organizations, they take advantage of this by publishing scary and sensational and tragic stories because your reptile brain wants you to click on those, and the more you click the more money they make from ads.
But by making sensational, negative news stories they’re making us more anxious, more scared, and more depressed. Now, I’m not saying this to minimize the tragedy that’s happening and the war that’s happening.
I’m saying this so that you’re an informed consumer and you can make choices about how to use your brain as you read the news. So, if you aren’t intentional, you’ll let news organizations take advantage of your ancient brain by allowing them to constantly trigger your danger response, which is going to make you more anxious and actually less prepared to take intelligent or helpful action to be safe.
Now, anxiety serves a function, right? It keeps us safe from real and present danger. But we have to keep our anxiety in check by asking, “Is how I’m seeing things accurate, or am I in actual danger?” And then we have to make a choice about how to respond.
Putting Your News Anxiety In Perspective
Now, the second thing here, right, is we need to get perspective. Now, when I say this next part, you’re probably gonna have a strong emotional reaction. So, just watch for it but the world is actually getting safer over time.
But no one feels that way, right? On average, life expectancy is up, child mortality is down, global income inequality is down, more people are living in democracies, conflicts are on the decline, massive gains have been made in reducing poverty and slavery, right?
Literacy is up, more people have access to healthcare than ever in the history of the world, right? Global education continues to improve, less kids get kidnapped than ever. But 9 out of 10 people think that the world is getting more dangerous, that it’s getting worse every day, and that’s mostly because of the news media and how we choose to read stories that highlight the bad things happening.
So when’s the last time you read a story titled, “Hey, there’s less war on average lately” or “Less kids are dying these days from polio” or “No one got kidnapped in our state this month,” right? These stories don’t get published because they don’t get clicked on as much because they don’t trigger that urgency in our brain the same way stories about tragedies do.
Now I’m not saying this to minimize what’s happening. I’m not saying this to say, like, “Oh, there’s no war. Nothing bad is happening.” Like bad things are happening, yeah. If you just let your circumstances or news media or your ancient, fear-based brain, your survival-based brain decide what you’re going to pay attention to, then you’re going to be constantly stressed out and depressed.
Now, because our brain is naturally attuned to see threats, we have to intentionally choose to see the good in the world as well. So, this looks like daily gratitude practice. It looks like speaking about the good in the world. It looks like following positive sources like Upworthy or the Good News Movement so that you can see, in addition to the tragedies and war, also the positive gains that we are making as a global society.
So again, I’m not saying you should just ignore the problem. I’m not trying to minimize how bad things are for many people right now.
But I’m just saying we need to intentionally choose where we’re gonna put our attention, Be Intentional and you can choose to run your brain instead of letting fear run you. And the way you do that is by choosing where you put your attention.
So I want you to ask yourself this question, right, “If I were to plan out my day minute by minute, how much time would I choose to spend consuming the news?” Now, this answer may be different for an international diplomat, a political science professor, a NASA engineer, or a car mechanic, right?
A politician may intentionally choose to read the news 10 hours a day. But I think for most people, if we were intentional about it, we might choose a smaller percentage of our day to give our attention to the news.
So, be intentional, right? I strongly recommend that you don’t start your day lying in bed reading or watching the news. This is like asking to prime your day for anxiety, right?
Plan in a time and a place where you’ll get informed each day, like maybe at lunch or in the afternoon, and then also choose an educational not a sensational source of news.
So I strongly recommend against cable news, and I would recommend a source like the AP, NPR, or BBC.
Don’t Let Social Media Choose Your News
Okay, next, don’t let social media determine when and how long you watch the news. Right? We used to have to go out and buy a newspaper and sit down and open it up and read it if we wanted to know the news, but now stories pop up in my social media feeds whether I want to see them or not.
So set time limits on your social media use, and show the algorithm what you do and what you don’t want to see. Right?
You can unfollow channels that are sensational or really negative or dramatic, right? Your brain and the social media algorithm are very similar, actually; they show you more of what you pay attention to. So, I’ve intentionally tailored my Instagram feed.
My Instagram is where I go for things that are funny. So I basically click “not interested in” anything negative or stressful on my Instagram so I can just watch cat videos there. And when I want to learn something, I go to YouTube or I go to NPR or BBC, right?
And if I just want to see cat videos, I go to Instagram.
Focus On What You Value
Okay. Next, when we’re getting sucked into all this negativity, all these news stories, right, we need to practice constantly shifting our attention back to what we do want our lives to be about. What do you want to be focused on?
Do you want to spend hours every day thinking about the news? If that’s your job, maybe yes. But if it’s not your job, maybe you want to be paying attention to your kids or your friends or your job or your family, right?
Pay attention to your values, what you want your life to be about and what you actually value, and give your time to that, not just reading all the news all the time. You manage anxiety by doing the locus of control activity.
So, clarity and action are antidotes to anxiety. So, grab a piece of paper, right? What can you do about the crisis in Ukraine? You can – here’s a bunch of options, right? You can get informed.
You can educate yourself on the political situation and the history of the conflict there. You can advocate. Right? You can you can advocate for a stance you care about. You can call your elected representative, and you can encourage them to take action. You can protest. You can vote for wise leaders. You can pray for the people in Ukraine. You can send money. You can get involved in aid organizations or you can support refugees.
You could fly over there and get involved physically, right? I’m not saying all of these are good ideas; we’re just brainstorming here.
You can encourage other people to get involved. Right? You can you can do that through social media. I mean, I’ve seen soccer players and soccer teams doing this. You could, you know, make posts and stuff like that to encourage other people to get more informed or tell other people where you stand.
Um another actionable step, I mean, you could decrease your dependence on Russian oil by living an eco-friendlier life. And you could put your own life in order, right? You could make an emergency fund. You could prepare some emergency supplies.
You could be the change that you want to see in the world by being kinder, by solving problems peaceably, by standing up for what’s right. If everyone in the world tried to be a little bit kinder, the whole world would be better.
But even when only one person does it, it makes a difference and it spreads. Or instead of taking action you could just think about problems over and over all day and doom-scroll for hours every day without doing anything.
Now, in my opinion, if you’re just gonna read the news and never take any action, it’s better to not even be informed.
So, spend some time doing a locus of control activity. What actions would you choose to take based on the information you’re consuming?
Okay. Caring about the world, and caring about people means that you want to be informed and that you’re gonna feel things when you see other people suffer. But be intentional about where you put your focus.
Choose how you consume the news, and transform your anxiety into action.
Now, if you want to learn how to process your emotions, you can check out the course below.