Why a News Fast Is the Best Thing You’ll Do All Year

As a kid growing up in South Africa in the eighties, the news interrupted our steady diet of Magnum PI, MacGyver and Knight Rider on only two occasions each evening. The shorter 6pm bulletin offered a brief overview of the day’s headlines, while the lengthier half hour edition at eight provided a more detailed account.

Compared to the 24/7 barrage of information we’ve been conditioned to expect nowadays, we were positively uninformed back then. Or were we?

When you really think about, there isn’t actually that much ‘new’ news on a daily basis. It’s simply news outlets, coupled with social media, regurgitating the same clips for hours (and sometimes days) on end.

The negative effects of this are far reaching, and that’s not just me talking. There is plenty of science to back this up. Take, for example, this study conducted at the University of California after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Scientists found that people who followed media coverage of the event for long enough had a greater chance of suffering from symptoms of high acute stress, sometimes even more so than those who were present at the site.

The main reason for this is that exposure through the media rather than in real life, meant people were being subjected to the same violent images over and over again.

That alone is reason enough to curb our intake. But given all that’s going on in the world right now, a news fast is probably the sanest thing we could do. First, let’s look at how watching bad news affects us.

Why Watching Bad News Is Detrimental to Our Overall Wellbeing

news bad for health

The short of it is that bingeing on bad news fuels daily stress levels. One study found that of the 2,500 Americans surveyed, 1 in 4 admitted experiencing a marked increase in stress as a result of watching, reading or listening to the news.

As someone who has been studying stress and the media since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, Mary McNaughton-Cassill, a psychologist at the University of Texas at San Antonio, is under no illusion as to the direct correlation between the two.

Not surprisingly, traumatic events covered in a sensationalist way cause the most harm. They’re also tough to avoid. As McNaughton-Cassill says, with so much more news available, and so many different channels vying for airtime, everyone is trying harder to be sensational.

The growing prevalence of disturbing images is another factor, claims McNaughton-Cassill. With reporters on the ground in every major center, the time it takes for news to reach us is almost instantaneous. “It’s as if we’re right there when the bomb hits,” she says.

The Many Benefits of a News Fast

benefits of a news fast

What even is a news fast? Essentially you’re opting out of the news in all its various formats, from television and radio to the newspaper and online for a certain period of time. It could be a day, a week or even a month. (The better at it you get, the longer you’ll go.)

Managing the stress reactions from watching the news can be tricky. Given our brain’s predilection for bad news, it’s imperative that we filter our input accordingly. After all, how we perceive the world depends on the information we allow into our space.

According to the Guardian, quitting the news temporarily will make you happier and rekindle your creativity. Dr. Andrew Weil, author of 8 Weeks to Optimum Health, is of a similar opinion.

“When you’re on a news fast, you should observe a difference in your state of mind and body. You are likely to be less anxious, less stressed, less angry, and less fearful.” says Weil.

How to Stay Abreast Without Getting Caught up in the Negativity

man reading newspaper

Although a huge advocate of news fasts, Dr. Weil says he has no objection to turning on the news occasionally for information you really need. He claims the need for concern arises when people turn it on compulsively or unconsciously.

If that sounds like you then perhaps the most significant thing you can do right now is limit the amount of news you take in on a daily basis. For the very addicted, even the idea of this could induce sweaty palms.

Start by only allowing ‘news time’ for an hour a day, preferably not first thing in the morning or after six in the evening. Opt to read the news, rather than watch it on television. By reading it, you won’t get caught up in the sensationalist hype and you’ll only be exposed to the news once. (Yes, you could read the article again, but you probably won’t.)

Make sure to follow Robin Sharma’s advice and have a purpose in mind before you start reading the paper. “Use it as an information tool to serve you and to make you wiser rather than as an excuse to help you pass time.” says Sharma.

Determine which news source offers the most objective coverage and read only that one. Finally, avoid at all costs consuming news via social media, which is full of hyperbole in addition to the usual lashings of negativity.

What to Do Instead of Watching the News

girl reading a book - news fast

The average American spends more time watching TV than they do reading. Since we already know books are better for you, visiting your local library seems like a good place to start. Take out a couple of old school paperbacks and rediscover the joy of immersing yourself in a well-written novel.

Look for good news and spread it like wildfire. Be the antidote to the negativity that’s out there.

Places like the Good News Network, Positive News and Daily Good are three of many websites committed to sharing uplifting stories. Make a point of spending some time each day on sites like these.

I’m not saying we should stick our head in the sand and pretend nothing’s wrong. There are terrible atrocities happening the world over. But incessantly watching coverage of an earthquake that rocked the other end of the globe won’t do anyone any good.

Instead, look around your own community and see how you can make a difference there. Volunteering has amazing benefits for the giver as well as the receiver.

“The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves.” — Helen Keller

News information overload is real, avoiding it also means avoiding the overwhelm that invariably follows. Still not convinced? PsychCentral has 10 reasons to go on a news fast.

Right, now challenge yourself to a 30-day news fast.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

47 comments

Gino C
Gino Cyesterday

Thanks for sharing

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Jerome S
Jerome Syesterday

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome Syesterday

thanks

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Jim Ven
Jim V2 days ago

thanks

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Jim Ven
Jim V2 days ago

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome S2 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Jerome S
Jerome S2 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Sophie M
Sophie M2 days ago

Thanks for posting this

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Greta H
Greta H4 days ago

Interesting article. Thanks.

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Olivia H
Olivia H5 days ago

Noted

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