How To Ensure That War Coverage In The News Does Not Overwhelm Your Peace Of Mind

How To Ensure That War Coverage In The News Does Not Overwhelm Your Peace Of Mind

We live at a time where news is constantly at our fingertips. Whether it’s relentless coverage of war and conflict such as in the Middle East and Ukraine, or stories about the climate crises, cost of living, or Covid-19 flare up, it can become immensely distressing to follow. As the colloquial journalism saying goes: “If it bleeds, it leads” because news outlets tend to favour sensational and violent stories.

We speak with many clients who feel as though they can’t stop or look away from war coverage and feel very worried by the continuous stream of distressing news. This is referred to as “doom scrolling” where the dramatic nature of the news hooks us in and keeps us engaged. It was even named Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year in 2020! A vicious cycle can occur where they get anxiously drawn in, leading to repetitive checking behaviour like refreshing news apps multiple times per day, and that means all times of the day and night. Twitter (Now X) is a commonly identified culprit. 

Recent research suggests that problematic news consumption can degrade our mental health. A 2023 US study reported that 16% of 1,100 survey participants experienced severely problematic news consumption which negatively impacted their mental health. Doom scrolling can start as a coping behaviour designed to emotionally ‘veg out’ when they are feeling tired. But, it can inadvertently start a mental tailspin which is hard to stop.

Are our minds prepared for this modern influx of news?

From an evolutionary biological perspective, it’s highly uncommon to experience such a volume of distressing material in a short space of time. In a way, humans were not designed to endure the volume and intensity of distressing content that the news and social media deliver to us.

Our challenge is to strike a healthy balance between staying in touch with news and current affairs and not getting into a negative downward spiral.

Three specific strategies

Here is a list of three specific strategies that can help to reduce doom scrolling and retain your peace of mind.

  1. Try and identify the triggers that drive your doom scrolling. For some, feeling tired or anxious (especially first or last thing during the day) is what triggers doom scrolling. It might be a good idea to update your daily routines and incorporate some light exercise (walking, stretching or alike) or sleep hygiene practices (turning down the lights, doing some light reading, taking a warm bath or shower) as a substitute for the doom scrolling. Sometimes there is something much deeper which fuels the anxiety such as friction in a relationship, uncertainty about the future, or concern for a loved one.
  2. Set limits to your online news consumption. As James Clear wrote in Atomic Habits, if you want to reduce a bad habit make it invisible. You may benefit from adding a little friction between you and the news on your phone. Try moving the apps away from your home screen, or (if you’re on Apple IOS like me) try adding a widget to your home screen showing how much screen time you have used per day. Try reading Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeatsky, former GMail engineers who refer to social media as “infinity pools” which are designed to capture and keep your attention.
  3. Stick to reputable and trustworthy news sources. Not all news is made equal. Some news providers are prone to greater sensationalism than others. Think of news consumption as like your diet; you ideally want a balanced range of all the different types of food. Not too much of heavy foods! News from unedited social media sources is less helpful than more reputable news sources.

Hope During Distressing Times

It’s very easy when feeling overwhelmed about war coverage to become overwhelmed and powerless. Yet, it’s important to take a step back and gain a balanced perspective. Hope remains, even when the world is in turmoil. Sometimes it’s hard to gain or understand this perspective, which is where we come in. A Psychologist can help you adopt a more balanced perspective and view things in a graduated way. This could include starting small and limiting doomscrolling at specific times, or starting to cultivate a more helpful substitute behaviour. As Paul Kelly sang, From Little Things Big Things Grow.

You are welcome to book an appointment to help understand and implement these ideas, especially if it is causing significant distress.

Attuned Psychology Team

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