You want to stay informed about world events, but the negativity is crazy-making. And if you have a tendency toward negative automatic thoughts—or a sensitivity to suffering—even small doses of the news can lead you into a downward spiral of increased stress and negativity.
When I encourage my clients to take a news holiday, their primary objection is: I have to stay informed.
That makes sense on the surface—but it assumes many factors that aren’t entirely true. Here are 5 faulty assumptions underlying the belief that it’s your duty to pay attention to the news.
Faulty Assumption #1:
It’s important to know what’s happening in the world
Although living under a (media-free) rock isn’t the best idea, it’s also not the worst. The vast majority of stories in the news don’t affect you—or anyone you know. But constant exposure to the news gives the impression that they do.
Don’t believe me? For each news story you encounter this week, ask yourself:
- How is my life—or the life of someone I know—different because I heard this information?
- How would life have been different if I hadn’t heard this story?
Faulty Assumption #2:
I need to know what’s going on so I can comfort others
As Christians, we’re called to help others, and Jesus was clear that the definition of ‘neighbor’ extends beyond the people we know personally. So just because a news story doesn’t directly affect our family or friends doesn’t necessarily mean we should ignore it.
However, comforting a neighbor doesn’t require detailed knowledge. For instance, it’s possible to deliver a casserole or send a condolence card without knowing the nitty-gritty. And sometimes acquiring additional information is related more to our desire for gossip than our desire to serve. (Ouch, right?!)
Questions to ask yourself:
- What details do I need to know to be a comfort in this situation?
- Will knowing more details make me more loving?
- How am I using the information I already have to love on others?
Faulty Assumption #3:
If I stop watching, I won’t know what’s happening
Oh, how I wish this were true! When my husband and I stop watching the news, rather than wonder what’s happening in the world, we’re amazed at how difficult it is to avoid. The news is everywhere—on social media, in line at the grocery store, and from co-workers and relatives.
In fact, the number of people who feel it’s their duty to share bad news far and wide astounds us—especially if you tell them you’re in a self-imposed news blackout.
As you go through the week, ask yourself:
- How many news reports trickle into my world without effort?
- What are the primary sources of unintentional news exposure for me?
- If I were on a news holiday and suddenly wanted to know about world events, who would I contact?
Faulty Assumption #4:
I need to know how to protect my family
I’ll concede that, in some instances, listening to the news may make a difference. For instance, if you’re living in an area that’s plagued with fires—as the state of California is as I write this—news stories could alert you to take precautions.
But I suspect the billowing clouds of smoke and the inversion effect that impacts even neighboring states is a bigger tip-off. And if the danger’s in your immediate vicinity, your time is better spent grabbing your kids and coats than skimming the CNN website.
- Does being aware of potential danger mean I’m prepared for dangerous situations?
- What can I do to prepare for emergencies before they’ happen? [HINT: Click here to buy Kathi Lipp’s book Ready for Anything: Preparing Your Heart and Home for Any Crisis Big or Small.]
Faulty Assumption #5:
I’ll be anxious if I don’t know what’s going on
Research shows the opposite is true. For instance, watching negative news for as little as 14 minutes increases anxiety and sad mood, and increases the tendency to catastrophize personal worries—including worries that aren’t even related to the news stories.
Why does it feel like checking the news calms you down? Because each peek feeds a compulsion and gives the sense that having the latest information is the same as having some control over the situation.
Try instituting a news blackout—for an hour, a day, a week. Then ask yourself:
- How often do I feel the need to check the news for updates?
- When I do peek at the news, is my sense of relief immediate—before I even learn new information?
- When I try going longer (or more frequent) periods without watching the news, how does my body feel? How is my mood? How do I use the time that was freed up?
Stop Watching the News … Without Intention
Although news reports have their place, it’s easy to mistake the feeling of urgency to know with a real need to know. But just as the sudden desire for a greasy, salty snack is fueled by the fast food industry’s reminders, the urgency to follow the news is fueled by the media corporations’ eye-catching headlines.
So, while it may be necessary—or even desirable—to pay attention to the news, in order to maintain a calm, peaceful interior, it’s important to have clarity about what drives your desire.
Questioning the faulty assumptions behind the statement “I have to stay informed” will help you decide which news stories to pay attention to, when, and how often—so you can live a peaceful life that’s in line with your values.