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Media & Mental Hygiene: Protecting Your Mental Health While Staying Informed

Updated: May 8, 2023

So much of how we produce and consume news has drastically changed in recent years. The way today’s world communicates and receives the news is very immediate, constant, repetitive, and right at our fingertips.

The news itself and the way news is presented takes a toll on our individual minds and society’s mental health. It is important to examine our relationship with media and have some coping skills in place. Much like how we take steps to care for our physical health and well-being by practicing hygiene, we must also practice mental hygiene.

Accessibility and Immediacy

The ease of accessing information is both a gift and a curse. While we are more informed than ever before, we have no process time and no breaks from the flood of information. The days of watching the nightly news for an hour per day as the sole source of current events are gone, as we are now constantly receiving updates, often hour by hour online. Today, within seconds of an event, folks can pull out their smartphones to capture gruesome crimes or accidents and post them for the world to see. With almost no lag time, the whole world can be informed. With how immediately things can be sent and posted—and not so easily retracted or deleted without a trace—room for inaccuracy or lack of context is high.

Graphic Sights and Sounds

Prior to cameras being built into our daily lives, reporters and photographers were the only folks capturing images. Grainy photos printed on newspapers were all that those readers had, with their imagination putting the pieces together. In today’s world, every person has the capacity to record their version of a disaster from their own angle in high definition. Not only do we see the fullness of the event in real-time through dozens of smartphone videos, but we hear the nauseating sounds of gunshots or screams. We must also consider the individuals who are spending the most time with screens: our young people. Young folks are growing up in a world where they see the sights and hear the sounds of tragedies right at their fingertips and in their earbuds constantly. Seeing these images repeatedly leaves our autonomic nervous system in a constant state of fight or flight.

Repetition and Re-Traumatization

In the days of nightly news or weekly newspapers, folks made a conscious choice to consume the news as a part of their routine. After the paper was read, it was discarded. After the news was over, the TV was turned off or the channel was changed. We had space to recover, process, move on, and forget. Today, news stories and videos are repeated for weeks or months on end. Each year on the anniversary of an event, the stored footage is played and we experience it all over again. Young people who weren’t even alive at the time of the event are forced to experience it for themselves instead of hearing about it through verbal stories like the ones our grandparents told us. There is no time for processing what we’ve seen, therefore it is never converted into our long-term memory. It stays very present and real, re-traumatizing viewers again and again.

Practicing Mental Hygiene Surrounding Media and News

We must examine our relationship with the media and the role it plays in our lives and our young people’s lives. To preserve our mental health and regulate the stress and anxiety caused by what is happening in the world, we must take care of our minds by practicing mental hygiene. Think about ways you can care for your mind and be thoughtful about what you allow into your brain space.

Here are 5 ideas:

  1. Take Breaks Stop scrolling or turn off the TV. Allow for news-free periods where you intentionally focus on other things. This might entail breaks from the internet and social media altogether.

  2. Schedule Times to Consume News It is important to stay informed. Schedule a start time and end time for how much time you’d like to spend reading or watching. When the end time comes, be diligent in upholding your commitment to stop.

  3. Talk It Out with Someone You Trust Verbal processing is a helpful way to make sense of what’s happening in the world. Talk about your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust. It can help to hear their perspective too. Feeling connected in the wake of tragedy and fear can bring comfort and peace.

  4. Control the Controllable News activates fear because things happening in the world often feel so out of our control. Remind yourself of the things you CAN control—your thoughts, your decisions, your actions. Take a step toward “controlling the controllable” whenever things feel overwhelming. Volunteer, vote, talk about it, take steps to keep yourself and your family safe, use information to help change how you do things in your slice of the world. Restore emotional regulation by restoring a sense of control.

  5. Practice Mindfulness to Maintain Balance Staying in charge of how we think and feel surrounding the news through mindfulness can help us manage how it affects us. Visual imagery is a helpful way to practice mindfulness: Imagine your mind as a house. When pieces of news or thoughts come knocking—peacefully or trying to barge their way in—imagine yourself standing at the door looking out the peephole. You get to examine the thought for however long you need to before deciding if you’ll let it in or not. You can choose to pull the shades down, keep the door locked, and walk away. You can choose to look at it from a distance through the peephole or window. Or you can invite it inside to come be a part of your day and life. This is a way we can practice setting boundaries with what thoughts we allow in and what thoughts we choose to let pass us by.


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