young man sitting in front of his computer screen
 The news can wreak a mental and psychological toll on some people. DjelicS via Getty Images

For some of us, the revelation that bad news is bad for you, is not surprising. After all, for people who are sensitive and have great empathy, seeing a vehicle blown up by a bomb, or people's homes destroyed by fire, or a classroom of children attacked by a gunman, is definitely stressful and possibly even trauma-producing. There is not even any doubt about that, at least not in my mind. That's just common sense.

But there are some people who can consume a steady diet of bad news on the 24-hour channels and not be affected. However the question could be asked, are they really not affected or are they perhaps repressing their feelings about it. Oriental medicine might say that the energy that is repressed then gets expressed in various illnesses, such as liver problems, headaches, aches and pains, etc. It is possible that the people who feel they are not affected by the stress of bad news are simply not in touch with their feelings about it.

But more importantly, for those of us who are affected by the horrific news that is dished out to us daily, how do we handle it without either becoming depressed or disconnecting completely from the world. There are days when we might just want to say, stop the world, I want to get off. Yet short of dying, we can not "get off" of Planet Earth. We can become recluses and live apart from everyone, or, a more popular version might be to become immersed in other people's lives, or getting caught up in TV and other forms of entertainment. This can allow us to ignore the largely bad news that is pervading the media and unfortunately much of the world.

But is that the "right" response? Is burying our head in the sand a productive way to act. While it may be better for our health, it doesn't do much for our playing our role in the theater of life. Perhaps, we need to find ways to deal with the news, first by moderating the amount of it we absorb. After all, how many times did we really need to see the picture of the World Trade Center collapse? Did we really need to see it every 10 minutes for, it seems, months on end? Probably not.

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So, perhaps we can ask ourselves, after we have been exposed to the bad news, what can I do? And whatever it is, do it. If it is sending money, do it. If it is, sending healing thoughts and prayers, do it. If it is writing a letter to the editor, do it. If it's getting involved in a community or humanitarian effort, do it. Everything we are exposed to is there for a reason. If we ignore it, or try to ignore it, it will fester. Best to be proactive, and do something... even if the "do something" is sitting down and sending love and prayers for healing to the people involved in the situation. 

Yes, we are affected by the bad news, whether we are aware of it or not. Our body will respond with stress, higher heart rate perhaps, and possibly unresolved feelings of sadness and fear. 

There's a new name for all of this tension and stress: "Headline Stress Disorder". Whether or not we name the consequence of a steady diet of bad news does not make it more or less real. Stress is real. Depression is real. Apathy is real. And the more we are bombarded by bad news, the more we may want to withdraw and block it all out. However, we are citizens of Planet Earth living in an improvisational play: "Life on Earth in the 21st century". We get to pick our role, what lines we will say, and what actions we will take. It behooves us to take actions that will not only assist our own mental health, but the health and well-being of those around us, including all of the inhabitants of Planet Earth. We are, after all, all in this together. We all live on the same planet.

The bottom line is that each one of us must be aware of the effects of the news on our psyche and take steps to mitigate the harm and promote healing both within our own self and in the world around us.

The following article tells about the uproar that was created when NPR (National Public Radio) ran a feature about "the stressful news cycle". Some people disagreed vehemently, and even resorted to name-calling, yet history and research supports the claim. Read on for an article on that situation and the history of stress in news.  -- Marie T. Russell, editor,

Is Headline Stress Disorder Real?

by Michael J. Socolow, Associate Professor, Communication and Journalism, University of Maine

Published: March 9, 2022

It began with a basic “news you can use” feature from National Public Radio. Titled “5 ways to cope with the stressful news cycle,” producer Andee Tagle’s piece, published in late February 2022, offered tips on how to cope with anxiety caused by news consumption in tense times.

Among Tagle’s tips: “Do something that feels good for your body and helps you get out of your head.” Also: “The kitchen is a safe space for a lot of us. Maybe this is the weekend that you finally re-create Grandpa’s famous lasagna … or maybe just lose yourself in some kitchen organization.”

Tagle’s simple self-help counsel quickly ignited social media scorn, seemingly touching a nerve among numerous commentators.

National Review’s Dan McLaughlin tweeted that the piece indicated that NPR employees “really do not envision their audience as grown adults.”

“I’m all for mental health awareness and therapeutic care,” tweeted Daily Beast editor Anthony Fisher, before ultimately dismissing Tagle’s article as “a lifestyle guide for narcissists.”

The piece and its condemnation raise issues involving research about the mental and psychological toll of everyday news consumption that’s gone largely unnoticed by the public over the last few years. Recent surveys and research on the subject have only occasionally been publicized in the general press. The COVID-19 global pandemic – and the doomsday news reports it sparked - attracted a bit more attention to this research.

Yet the mental and psychological toll of news consumption remains largely unknown to the general news consumer. Even if the research isn’t widely known, the emotions felt by what one Northwestern University Medical School article called “headline stress disorder” probably exist for an certain unknown proportion of news consumers. After all, if these feelings didn’t exist for at least some of their listening audience, NPR would never have published that piece. Nor would Fox News have published a similar article to help its viewers cope.

News threatens mental stability

The idea that more news, delivered faster through new and addicting technologies, can cause psychological and medical harm has a long history in the United States.

Media scholars like Daniel Czitrom and Jeffrey Sconce have noted how contemporaneous research linked the emergence and prevalence of neurasthenia to the rapid proliferation of telegraphic news in the late 19th century. Neurasthenia is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a condition that is characterized especially by physical and mental exhaustion usually with accompanying symptoms (such as headache and irritability).” Early 19th-century scientific exploration in neurology and psychiatry suggested that too much news consumption might lead to “nervous exhaustion” and other maladies.

In my own research into social psychology and radio listening, I noticed the same medical descriptions recurring in the 1920s, once radio became widespread. News reports chronicled how radio listening and radio news consumption seemed to threaten some people’s mental stability.

One front-page New York Times article in 1923 noted that a woman in Minnesota was divorcing her husband on the then-novel grounds that he suffered from “radio mania.” The wife felt her husband “paid more attention to his radio apparatus than to her or their home,” which had apparently “alienated his affection” from her.

Similar reports of addiction, mania and psychological entanglement spawned by new media emerged again as television proliferated in the American home in the 1950s, and again with the proliferation of the internet.

The public discussion of psychological addiction and mental harm caused by new technologies, and the ensuing moral panics they spawn, appears periodically as new communication technologies emerge. But, historically, adjustment and integration of new media occurs over time, and disorders such as neurasthenia and “radio mania” are largely forgotten.

Anxious about frightening news

“Headline stress disorder” might sound ridiculous to some, but research does show that reading the news can make certain subsets of news consumers develop measurable emotional effects.

There are numerous studies looking into this phenomenon. In general, they find some people, under certain conditions, can be vulnerable to potentially harmful and diagnosable levels of anxiety if exposed to certain types of news reports.

The problem for researchers is isolating the exact subset of news consumers this happens to, and describing precisely the effect that occurs in response to specific identified news subjects and methods of news consumption.

It is not only probable, but even likely, that many people are made more anxious by the widespread distribution of frightening news. And if a news consumer has a diagnosed anxiety disorder, depression, or other identified mental health challenge, the likelihood that obviously distressing news reports would amplify and inflame such underlying issues seems almost certain.

Just because popular culture manages to pathologize much of everyday behavior doesn’t mean identified problems aren’t real, as those skewering the NPR story implied.

We all eat; but some of us eat far too much. When that occurs, everyday behavior is transformed into actions that can threaten health and survival. Likewise, most of us strive to stay informed, but it’s likely that in certain situations, for certain people, staying informed when the news is particularly frightening can threaten their mental health.

Therefore, the question is not whether the problem is real, but how research might quantify and describe its true prevalence, and how to address the problem.

And that’s precisely why the NPR article caused such a stir. Many people who consume news without problem couldn’t fathom why others might benefit from learning how to cope with “headline stress disorder.”

In reality, the criticism aimed at NPR says nothing about those who find our current run of bad news particularly anxiety provoking. It does say a lot about the lack of empathy from those who would scoff at the idea.The Conversation

Michael J. Socolow, Associate Professor, Communication and Journalism, University of Maine

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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