Self-care in the age of 24/7 negative news cycles

So often when I tune into the news online, on the radio or on TV, I can’t help but think.

The bad news just keeps coming…

I want to explore how this impacts perceive the world, and especially how our children see the world. Years ago back in the 1950s and 60s in rural communities around Australia there was very little TV. Our families heard the news via the radio and without the massive network of telecommunications that exists today the news of major tragedies or natural disasters often took a long time to filter through to those who lived well away from big cities. As time went by, our ability to learn about major world events, or local catastrophes or disasters changed drastically.  Not only did our TVs become giants with vibrant digital colour, our news cycles became 24/7 rather than something that happened at 6pm every night. Modern journalism merged with entertainment and the way the news is presented is drastically different now than it was 30 or 40 years ago – and with smart phones everyone has a recording device in their hand so we are getting so much more footage than we’ve ever seen. The news has been sensationalised and often the facts are blended with powerful visual images and audio in a way that grabs our attention.

From breakfast television, to mid-morning television, to afternoon news, nightly news and finally late night news we are bombarded with the worst examples of humanity day in day out. With some of these awful news events being broadcast directly minute by minute all day, it can feel like you cannot escape. The Lindt cafe siege in Sydney in 2015 was such an example. As humans, we are deeply affected by emotional contagion, and the horror and the fear that the victims were experiencing touched all those who watch the news coverage. As adults we are able to deal with these things much more effectively and rationally than our children or our adolescents and yet they were being bombarded as well.

We do have an epidemic of childre’s anxiety and the highest levels of adolescent depression we have ever known. I wonder if this saturation of news, always featuring the worst aspects of war, hate and horror could be contributing to these statistics. Indeed I would suggest many adults are being conditioned to be more worried and fearful by this distorted perception of the world and what is happening.  I am an emotionally stable and optimistic person and there have been times when I have felt what I call ‘trauma fatigue’. I simply could not watch one more minute of such TV viewing.

I have written about this over exposure to awful, sad and tragic events to explain how it can contribute to our high levels of personal stress, and if we are stressed parents this stress is often unintentionally passed onto our children. Heightened levels of cortisol are triggered by the brain and what we see, what we hear and what we experience triggers our thoughts to become more fear based thus creating emotions that make us feel yuk.

My personal wellbeing program

My work means I travel a lot and I am away from the nurturing influence of my home, my dog, my garden and familiar places and people. To ensure my wellbeing I need to keep a balance between the stressors of the world and the protective factors that nurture and sustain me in a healthy and positive way – this is true for all of us. 

I stay mindful of where I place my attention so that I do not become drowned in the negativity of our news driven screen world. I deliberately have no app on my smart phone to follow the news, and where possible I avoid watching more than one news bulletin in any given day. (It is driving my husband a bit mad as he loves watching the news on three channels most days.)

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My mental wellbeing program consists not only of restricting consumption of depressing news stories, documentaries and breaking news on all screens, but I am mindfully choosing what I am reading, listening to or viewing to ensure that I am witnessing and hearing the good things that happen in our world. Thankfully most nature programs, especially those that feature Richard Attenborough, are uplifting, fascinating and incredibly entertaining. I have also been seeking out more comedy, and with all the Australian comedy festivals around, there is always plenty of funny content to choose from and I laugh a lot. I also search for programs in my special interest areas of gardening, cooking, books and historical dramas.

When there is nothing I am interested in that will not create the neurotransmitters of wellbeing, the TV, my PC and my smart phone stay silent. I also make time to cook and garden in real time and I get great joy from baking for others. Thankfully mother nature is always just outside the door and having a cuppa outside rather than inside or going for a walk are pure gold for making my spirits lift.

I also spend my time playing soothing, calming or uplifting favourite pieces of music and I have been doing more relaxation activities including meditations and visualisations.

Finally, my other cup filler is to take a few moments morning and night, when I ponder on the things I’m deeply grateful for — dear family, friends, good health and of course my pup Hugo. These are protective factors that help me keep that balancing act of staying healthy, resilient and joyful much of the time.

A helpful model to keep you on track is the Five Ways to Wellbeing:

This approach is a set of evidence-based that promote people’s wellbeing. The Five Ways to Wellbeing were developed by the New Economics Forum from evidence gathered in the UK government’s Foresight Project on Mental Capital and Wellbeing. The project, published in 2008, drew on state-of-the-art research about mental capital and mental wellbeing through life. It is also full of common sense! The Five Ways have been used by health organisations, schools and community projects across the UK and around the world to help people take action to improve their wellbeing.

They are:

  1. Connect.
  2. Be Active. 
  3. Take Notice. 
  4. Keep Learning. 
  5. Give.
    SOURCE: New Economics Forum, Five Ways to Well-being. New Economics Forum, London, UK. Viewed 12 September 2013

So my challenge to you is to ask how can you lift the joy level of your self – how can you create more positive neurotransmitters, and create a more balanced view of our world. What can you avoid? What can you focus on more? Self-care for busy mums and dads and those who work with families is incredibly important. Be careful not to get sucked in to the dark void of awfulness that can come from watching, reading or listening to too much of the 24/7 news cycles with endless repeated stories suffering, pain, injustice and horror.

Remember the words from Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata:

Take kindly the counsel of years,
Gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
No less than the trees and the stars;
You have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.