Are You a Negative News Junkie?

Are You a Negative News Junkie?
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An obsession with negative news can damage your health and well-being.

Source: John Hain/Pixabay, used with permission

While many people are news junkies, who like to stay well-informed and regularly keep track of all news, good and bad, many Americans appear to have developed a preoccupation, or near-obsession, with negative news only, according to researchers at Texas Tech University. For some people, they say, this has become a compulsive and problematic behavior along the lines of gaming and social media addictions. However, negative news compulsion is even more problematic, the researchers point out, because it constantly focuses on threatening and dangerous issues and events, keeping some people trapped in a very dark and often hopeless state of mind.

The study consisted of an online survey of more than 1,000 adults in the United States. More than 16 percent of those surveyed reported their news consumption as “severely problematic.”

In addition to feeling stressed and anxious to the point of continually being distracted from their work or schooling, the majority of this subgroup also reported common physical symptoms of stress and anxiety. These included gastrointestinal difficulties, generalized physical pain, and fatigue. Additionally, those most affected by negative news reported that their obsession filled their days to the point of interfering with personal relationships, feeling increased restlessness, and developing sleeping problems. The researchers found that the more problematic the news consumption was for an individual, the greater the mental and physical health problems experienced.

Although media outlets make it difficult to avoid bad news, the researchers acknowledge it is their job to report any news, good or bad, that will grab their readers’ attention. It’s how the news industry sustains itself. And granted, the past couple of years brought with them an overwhelming amount of bad news, including a pandemic, multiple mass shootings, out-of-control wildfires, political upheaval, discrimination, economic distress, and mass protests. There’s been no way to follow the news without being bombarded with controversial and negative events. Like any other industry, news outlets face their own competition and financial pressures, essentially forcing journalists to pump out the most interesting and up-to-date news as soon as possible.

As difficult as it may be for some to “tune out” problematic news, the Texas Tech researchers say previous studies show those who recognize and understand the damage a negative news compulsion is having on their mental and physical health can make the decision to stop following negative news almost entirely or at least reduce the amount of time spent following up on problematic news stories. Rather than disengaging entirely from all news and becoming an uninformed citizen, the researchers say the goal for those who are overly obsessed is to somehow develop a healthier relationship with the news by limiting the need to be on top of the latest development at every waking moment.

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