Obsession with news affects physical health way more than expected, according to the outcome of a new study. The results of a new study that was just published in the peer-reviewed journal Health Communication show that people who feel like they have to check the news all the time are more likely to have stress, anxiety and physical illness.
Over the course of the past two years, we have witnessed a slew of troubling occurrences on a worldwide scale. These include the COVID pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, large-scale riots, mass shootings and deadly wildfires. These events have all taken place. When we read about bad things that happen, we might feel helpless and upset. Many people experience this reaction.
Those who have high levels of news addiction reported “significantly greater physical ill-being.” This is compared to those who had lower levels of news addiction. These new findings show that being exposed to a 24-hour news cycle with events that change all the time can be detrimental. That is, it is for your mental and physical health in a lot of ways.
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Study shows that obsession with news affects physical health way more than expected
According to Bryan McLaughlin, an associate professor of advertising in the College of Media and Communication at Texas Tech University, “Witnessing these events unfold in the news can bring about a constant state of high alert in some people. This kicks their surveillance motives into overdrive and makes the world seem like a dark and dangerous place.”
“For these individuals, a vicious cycle can develop in which, rather than tuning out, they become drawn further in. That is, obsessing over the news and checking for updates around the clock. This is in an effort to alleviate their emotional distress. However, this does not help. This is because, the more people check the news, the more other elements of their lives become disrupted as a result.”
In order to investigate this phenomenon, which is commonly referred to as a “news addiction,” McLaughlin and his colleagues, Dr. Melissa Gotlieb and Dr. Devin Mills, analyzed the results of an online survey that was conducted with 1,100 people living in the United States.
People were asked how much they agreed with statements. Statements such as “I find it difficult to stop reading or watching the news.” “My mind is frequently occupied with thoughts about the news.” “I become so absorbed in the news that I forget the world around me.” “I frequently do not pay attention at school or work because I am reading or watching the news.”
Additionally, the respondents were questioned about the frequency with which they experienced feelings of stress and worry. This is in addition to a variety of medical problems, including weariness, physical discomfort, poor focus and gastrointestinal disorders.
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Problematic news consumption
According to the findings of the study, 16.5% of the participants who were questioned had symptoms of “severely problematic” news intake. These people frequently become so engrossed in the news and so personally invested in its outcomes. This is in such a way that the news stories dominate their waking thoughts. Also, makes it difficult for them to focus on school or work. This contributes to restlessness and an inability to sleep and disrupting their time with family and friends.
Even after controlling for demographic factors, personality traits, and overall news use, people who had higher levels of problematic news consumption were significantly more likely to experience mental and physical ill-being than those who had lower levels. This was the case, even though it may not come as a surprise.
When asked how frequently they had encountered symptoms of physical or mental illness during the course of the previous month, the following responses were given by survey participants.
73.6% of individuals who were characterized as having significant levels of problematic news intake reported suffering. That is, from mental ill-being “quite a bit” or “very a lot.” Just 8% of all other survey participants reported experiencing frequent symptoms of mental illness.
61% of individuals who were exposed to extreme levels of negative news reported suffering. That is, bodily ill-being “quite a bit” or “very a lot.” However, just 6.1% of all other research participants reported having similar degrees of distress.
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The Way Forward
McLaughlin thinks that the results show that targeted efforts to teach people about the media are needed. This is to help people develop a better relationship with the news.
“It is crucial that people have a better relationship with the news. This is even if we want people to remain involved in the news,” he adds.
“In the majority of situations, therapy for addictions and compulsive behaviors relies on completely stopping the problematic activity. This is because it might be hard to break the habit in moderation. This is what the treatment is trying to help the person do.
“Research has shown that in the instance of problematic news consumption, individuals may elect to discontinue. Maybe they will at least significantly limit their intake of news. That is, if they think that it is having a negative influence on their mental health.
“For example, previous research has shown that individuals who became aware of and concerned about the adverse effects that their constant attention to sensationalized coverage of COVID-19 was having on their mental health reported making the conscious decision to tune out. People in this group were worried about how their constant attention was hurting their mental health.
“However, tuning out comes at the price of an individual’s access to critical information for their health and safety. In addition to this, it weakens the presence of an educated populace. This has repercussions for the maintenance of a healthy democracy. Because of this, the ideal scenario is one in which one has a balanced connection with the consumption of news.
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Checkmating the media companies
The research also shows how important it is to have a more in-depth discussion about how the media business may be contributing to the problem.
According to McLaughlin, “the economic pressures that outlets are under, along with technological improvements and the 24-hour news cycle, have prompted journalists to focus on identifying “newsworthy” subjects that will attract the attention of news consumers.”
“However, for certain types of people, the conflict and drama that characterize newsworthy stories not only grab their attention and draw them in. However, it can also lead to a maladaptive relationship with the news. This is because these aspects of newsworthy stories are what make them newsworthy. Because of this, the findings of our research highlight the fact that the economic demands that are placed on the news media are not only detrimental to the objective of preserving a healthy democracy; they may also be detrimental to the health of individuals.”
The fact that the data was only gathered at one moment in time is one of the limitations of this study. Because of this, the authors were unable to figure out the exact link between hearing bad news and both mental and physical illness.
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