What Is News Fatigue and How Can We Cope With it?

what is news fatigue

If 2020 wasn’t enough of a year with bushfires, social justice events, the US election and ever-present COVID-19 pandemic – and the endless news coverage of it all – now we’ve now started 2021 with a coup on Capitol Hill.

Some spent yesterday ‘doomscrolling‘; refreshing the news feed for updates on the shocking events. Some, potentially triggered by the trauma (like first responders, for example) may have avoided it altogether. Others, like myself, gave up on reading the news after 10 minutes from stress and anxiety (for you: food that may help with stress, and breathing exercises for the anxiety). For those of us who found themselves going with the ‘giving up’ option, rest assured we’re not terrible people, we’re just fatigued.

What we’re experiencing has a medical term ‘compassion fatigue,’ or more specifically: news fatigue. Compassion fatigue used to be most commonly seen among health care professionals, who see or hear about ongoing and unspeakable suffering.

Research from 2011 found journalists are also suffering compassion fatigue and can be psychologically and emotionally affected by their coverage of traumatic stories. In fact, journalists who cover war can suffer psychological symptoms similar to those of soldiers. Closer to home, local journalists can also experience symptoms of traumatic stress.

And for those of us who consume news about these events? There’s only so much trauma we can consistently see before being “left unmoved.” Or as one study put it, “The ironic situation in which news is more available than ever but people are becoming overwhelmed and thus avoid it.”

Psychologist Dan Martin says it happens when we’re presented with confronting information about our environment – tapping into our primal instincts, and prompting us to be vigilant for danger in our surrounding.

“It was originally evolved to be activated for short bursts of time. It has negative effects on our health and wellbeing if activated for extended periods – like constantly monitoring the 24-hour news cycle.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve been confronted with news fatigue. The same thing happened during coronavirus coverage – The Conversation reported that 71% of Australians avoided news about coronavirus.

If you’re wondering if you’re suffering from compassion or news fatigue, the signs are pretty instantaneous: feeling burdened by the suffering of others, blaming others for their suffering, difficulty concentrating, feelings of hopelessness. Other signs to look out for are isolating yourself, insomnia, nightmares, overeating, poor self-care, and more.

So if you can’t break the cycle of doomscrolling, even when the news fatigue has long hit, here are some things you can do to cope.

Keep it in perspective

“Though these negative events that are being reported may have occurred, there may also be many positive events that are not reported. Thus, a sampling bias is created and the consumer is left with the impression that only bad things are happening. Keeping this sort of concept in mind may help put information in perspective,” says Martin.

Put a limit on it

We’ve got a 24-hour news cycle now, so Martin suggests it may be practical to “simply limit your exposure to distressing info.” He says to allow yourself to learn essential info about the news, but then banning yourself.

However, “if it is having an especially negative impact you may need to avoid all news reports for a period of time,” says Martin.

Redirect yourself

Essentially, do other things that will take your mind off the topic. “Things like going for a walk, calling a friend, reading a book, or even a timely Netflix binge may help in the short term.”

Use news fatigue as an opportunity

“If you’re particularly moved by a cause or incident, it may be practical to reflect on what you could do to influence this situation in the community in a more positive way,” says Martin.

He suggests supporting a charity or finding a place to volunteer. “This may allow you to feel like you are a more positive influence on the community, and are making a difference in a constructive way.”

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