How To Limit Your News Consumption While Staying Informed, From An Integrative MD
With the world in a state of uncertainty, gathering information is one way to feel in control. But overconsuming the news—especially bad news—may not be doing your mental state any favors. So how can you limit news intake while staying informed?
We reached out to integrative medicine physician at Harvard Medical School Aditi Nerurkar, M.D., MPH, who explains why people are so compelled to read the news right now, as well as her top tips for limiting COVID-19 news consumption.
Why are you drawn to the news in crisis?
Self-preservation (otherwise known as the fight-or-flight response) is a natural, biological process. "As humans, we need to be informed in order to protect ourselves," Nerurkar says. This is why, even when the news is negative, we often feel compelled to read it.
Staying up-to-date is important, but when you've started looking at the news for three or more hours per day, it becomes maladaptive, meaning, what started out as beneficial, suddenly becomes harmful.
"Think of it like exercise," Nerurkar says. "It's good for you, right? But if you do it for hours on end, it becomes unhealthy."
Right now, you're probably already in heightened states of stress, according to Nerurkar. Therefore, consuming COVID-19 news in excess—whatever your definition of that is—will only heighten your stress response.
"Keeping your media use in check helps to keep your stress in check," she says. "If people are engaging in the news for three to five hours right now, their mental health is probably not optimized."
So, how can you limit news intake effectively?
You have to parent yourself, the same way you would restrict excess screen time for a child. While there is no "right" amount of time to spend consuming the news, one hour per day is generally reasonable—but not all in one sitting.
To help break up your news consumption, Nerurkar recommends two different techniques; one is time-based and the other is source-based:
- Time-based: To practice time-based media intake, set a timer on your phone every time you sit down to read or watch the news. Choose a certain amount of time—whether it's 20 minutes, three times per day, or 15 minutes, four times per day—and stick with it. "Again, this requires parenting yourself," she says. "It's got to be a hard stop when the timer goes off."
- Source-based: To practice source-based media intake, choose two platforms you want to read, and stick with those—don't stray to other outlets. This is usually best practiced with written media since TV can be difficult to shut off. "This is harder in times like this, when you really want to be aware of what's going on in the world," Nerurkar says. In order to get varied sources of information right now, time-based limitations might be more actionable.
Other ways to reduce your media intake include:
- Removing your phone from your nightstand. "Don't sleep with any devices in your room," Nerurkar says. "Put it in the bathroom or the living room so you're not tempted to read the news as soon as you wake up." Then start your day with something relaxing, like a stretch, a meditation, or take the time to make breakfast.
- Removing your phone from your workspace. "Creating a physical separation from your source of news can be helpful," she says.
- Reading the news in the early evening, never before bed. "Having enough time to do something relaxing after you read the news can help calm your stress response. Exercise, do yoga, or read a book."
While the news is incredibly valuable, reading too much of it in stressful times can affect physical and mental health—which is exactly what we want to protect right now.
"There are many ways we can protect our health right now. Talking with friends about something other than the pandemic, laughing, exercising," Nerurkar says, "and add to that, limiting—not cutting off—news exposure."
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