The Second Pandemic That’s Just As Bad As COVID?

“How they go, how they go!

All the ones you thought would never go.”

– Charles Bukowski, Something for the touts, the nuns, the grocery clerks and you

I’ve been noticing a strange phenomenon recently. 

People I respect and like have been getting sucked into the swirling vortex of the 24/7 news cycle. 🔄

Folks who would occasionally post on Facebook about current events are now posting exclusively about them…📱

And it’s no longer occasional…🤔

They’re posting about this stuff 5, 10, even 15 times a day. 😱

That’s not good. 

And it makes me worry for them. 

Young male character embracing their knees, emotional stress, mental health

If you want to be happy, here are the two simplest steps you can take: 

  1. Drastically reduce your news consumption.  
  2. Drastically reduce the time you spend on social media. 

I’ve written about how I avoid my Facebook newsfeed like the plague…

So today I want to talk about news consumption, mental health, and why watching CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News regularly can literally kill you. 

It’s pretty straightforward actually: 

As Graham Davey, a professor emeritus of psychology at Sussex University and the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Experimental Psychopathology puts it: 

“The way that news is presented and the way we access news has changed significantly over the last 15 to 20 years. These changes have often been detrimental to general mental health.”

Davey’s research shows that negative TV news is a significant mood-changer, and the moods it tends to produce are sadness and anxiety. 

Here’s Davey again: 

“Our studies also showed that this change in mood exacerbates the viewer’s own personal worries, even when those worries are not directly relevant to the news stories being broadcasted,” he says. 

And it’s not just mental health…

As Davey and other experts have pointed out…

The increased anxiety and stress from the news cycle affect our health physically. 

Specifically, they lead to the release of cortisol, which has been linked to inflammation and associated with rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and more. 

So like I said, too much news consumption can literally kill you…

And even if it doesn’t kill you, it can cause serious damage to your mental health. 

In a paper in the journal Health Psychology…

Psychologists Dana Rose Garfin, Roxane Cohen Silver, and E. Alison Holman talk about how widespread media coverage of a collective crisis like COVID can amplify stress. 

The authors reviewed over 20 years of research on the role of exposure to media in acute and long-term health outcomes. 

And unsurprisingly, Garfin, Silver, and Holman found that consistent exposure to the 24/7 news cycle increases perceptions of threat and activates the “fight or flight response”…

Which can lead to subsequent physical and mental health problems. 

And the way this manifests itself is pretty incredible. 

For example, it was found that several hours of daily TV exposure in the days after 9/11 was associated with increased post traumatic stress and new-onset physical health problems 2 to 3 years later… 

And that high stress responses post-9/11 were associated with more cardiovascular ailments over the 3 years following the attacks. 

Similarly, researchers found that when people were exposed to several hours of daily media during the Ebola outbreak in 2014…

They were more likely to experience increased distress and worry and worse functioning over time compared with people who consumed less media. 

And this next one is perhaps the wildest to me…

Infection global research concept. Vector flat person illustration. Doctor with magnifier study blood drop on world map. Design element for medicine banner, poster, background, web, infographic.

After the Boston Marathon bombings…

Acute stress symptoms were highest among people, who reported the most media exposure, even when compared to the site of the bombings.

To put that another way…

Many of the most severe cases of PTSD from the Boston bombings occurred in people who were NOT at the actual event. 

That should tell you a lot about the impact media consumption has on our brain…

And the same exact thing is happening right now with COVID-19 too. 

At the end of their 20-year review paper…

Garfin, Silver, and Holman argue that during today’s pandemic, this media-fueled distress may encourage behaviors that overtax the healthcare system and divert important resources. 

They point out that during previous pandemics…

High levels of media exposure resulted in a surge of emergency department visits, even in relatively low-risk communities. 

In fact, as crazy as it might sound, just consuming constant news about COVID-19 probably increases the chances of you actually getting the disease. 

Dr. Carole Liberman, a psychiatrist in Beverly Hills with a master’s in public health explains: 

“You’ve heard the phrase, ‘If it bleeds, it leads.’ Most news focuses on scary stuff to get people to tune in. They’ve got to get your attention and keep it, and so they use headlines, stories, and images that are the scariest possible to portray an event.”

This leads to what Dr. Liberman calls “Coronavirus Stress Syndrome.”

She says: 

“The more stressed a person is, the more their immune system is weakened, so this makes them more vulnerable to catching coronavirus. Therefore, watching round-the-clock news about coronavirus actually makes people more vulnerable to it.”

These effects are even more detrimental to those who struggle with mental health issues by the way…

That’s because, according to psychotherapist and addiction specialist Holly Sawyer: 

“For those who suffer from depression and anxiety, watching the news, especially twenty-four-hour news, can worsen their symptoms. If you’re already feeling hopeless or anxious, the news just increases this feeling.”

Remember, Sawyer is an addiction specialist…

And she believes that there is an addictive component to watching 24-hour news, or even local news. 

“As with other addictions, people go to that thing that feeds them and keeps them there. It becomes an addiction cycle that keeps feeding on itself.” 

Sawyer also adds that it’s probably not a coincidence that commercials aired during newscasts tend to promote products for the same ailments the bad news may be contributing to. 

Ads for anti-anxiety medication, cholesterol-lowering drugs, and weight loss solutions are common during newscasts…

And all of these conditions are made worse by elevated levels of stress. 

So yeah, too much news is really killing you…

Or at best, it’s warping your mind. 

And here’s one of the big kickers…

You might hear all of this and think, “Well, I don’t watch much cable news, so I’m good”…

But it turns out…

You don’t actually need to consume very much news to have it negatively affect your brain. 

In a 2011 study published in the British Journal of Psychology…

Three groups of adults were exposed to 14 minute TV news bulletins that were edited to display either positive, neutral, or negative material. 

Participants who watched the negative news clip showed increases in both anxiety and sadness, and a significant increase in the tendency to catastrophize a personal worry. 

14 minutes…

Long lasting mental implications…

And it’s not just cable news that does this…

As I’ve talked about previously…

Even short-term exposure to negativity on your social media news feeds can drastically alter not just your immediate mood…

But your very prospects of living a happy, successful life. 

So please, be wary of too much news. 

You might remember the old anti-drug commercial from the 80s about “This Is Your Brain On Drugs.” 

In that commercial, they show an egg frying in a pan…

And it’s supposed to represent how scrambled your mind becomes when you use illicit substances.  

Well, sure, recreational drug use can certainly screw you up…

But the same ad could just as easily run today with the message “This is your brain on the news…”

And if the news corporations are like cartels…

Right now, they’re enjoying the most prolific period of their existence.   

As the Associated Press recently reported:

A “hot news cycle” due to COVID-19 and then the murder of George Floyd led CNN to its best ratings in 40 years…

With their weekday primetime audience up over 120% compared to the same period last year. 

Even more crucially…

CNN boasted a greater than 50% growth rate with the key 25-54 year old demographic…

Isometric funnel infographic of a customer retention strategy

Which is a big deal because people who fall into this demo (myself included) are considered to be worth the most money to the news corporations.  

MSNBC saw a 50% increase in ratings in the second quarter as well…

And Fox News saw record-breaking ratings too.  

Meanwhile, social media usage has skyrocketed since COVID started…

  • There’s been a 61% increase in social media engagement and a 37% increase in overall Facebook Usage…
  • Twitter’s average total of “monetizable daily active users” increased by 23% during Q1 of 2020…

                   And according to Nielsen…

  • Americans spent 215% more time on mobile devices accessing current events and global news in March of 2020 vs. March 2019. 

So when you add up what’s happening right now…

The increased consumption of news along with a record number of hours spent posting about it on social media…

It’s hard not to feel like we've got a “second pandemic” on our hands…

A pandemic that’s going to have just as far-reaching, negative consequences for society as COVID will. 

And that’s at the societal level…

But let’s bring it back to the individual level for a moment. 

Even if you’re really good about your media consumption and social media habits…

Think about your friends and family. 

I’d argue we have a duty to those we love to help warn them about the dangers of too much media consumption…

To help them back away from the ledge…

Because otherwise, the world is going to continue to become an increasingly dark place to live. 

 

– SPG

P.S. Since this post originally came from an email I sent to my private list, I haven’t included citations. But I have them for every single fact and quote presented here. If you want to see more stuff like this from me, you can apply to join my list using this link.

P.P.S. Completely unrelated, but the opening quote is from one of my absolute favorite poems of all time. If you want to read it when you have a chance – here’s the link.   

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