The news is a business. Ratings, shares, and reactions are as important to broadcasting companies as keeping us informed.
But with news fatigue, anxiety, and depression on the rise, is it time to say STOP to sensationalised headlines everywhere we look? Martin Gallagher explains why he set boundaries with social media to protect his mental health.
Sometimes we find ourselves surrounded by nothing but horrifying stories. It's the internet’s greatest asset and biggest flaw: 24/7 access to information from almost every country, playing out in an endless stream of bigger, flashier announcements. We're more informed than we've ever been. There are no excuses; anyone who is not up-to-date on the latest headlines is labelled selfish, uncaring, or unintelligent.
And even 24/7 coverage is no longer enough. We are constantly bombarded with more: More viewpoints, more analysis, more angles, and more opinions.
We want to stay informed, but “news fatigue” is taking its toll
Everything – from war to Amanda Holden's new outfit - is up for discussion on social media. In a matter of clicks, we can read and be influenced by the opinions of tons of people worldwide.
Online, it just takes seconds to find someone with an opposing opinion. Before you know it, you're sucked into a heated debate. Social media doesn't just expose us to arguments; it actively encourages them. Unless, of course, you've managed to create a water-tight echo chamber full of people who only agree with you.
As I was doomscrolling throughout the pandemic, I saw a new term that stood out to me: "news fatigue." (By the way, “doomscrolling” is another term that became popular during the COVID-19 lockdowns.)
COVID-19 and related deaths had hogged the headlines on TV and in newspapers for two years. When that was nearing an end, we were freshly disturbed by reports of Russia's attack on Ukraine, rising domestic violence cases, and kidnappings, murders, and cover-ups committed by those meant to protect us.
Yes, we need to know these things. We’re under no illusions that the world is always a happy, safe, considerate place to live. But my mind was becoming bludgeoned by months of non-stop negativity.
Will Smith was my tipping point
Then, the Academy Awards happened, and I woke up to the ever-polished Will Smith slapping Chris Rock over a joke about his wife. The comments bought up a host of recent inappropriate jokes from comedians.
A joke by Jimmy Carr started trending again - the one about the mass murder of Gypsies during the Holocaust being a "good" thing.
As always, even when racism is finally getting called out, derogatory comments about Gypsies are apparently immune to criticism. I saw the racism rise in the comment threads as people supported Carr.
Not long afterwards, discussions moved to the histories of past award winners - many who had been accused of sexual assault. People started sharing traumatising pictures, articles, and recordings. And all this happened within an hour!
I scrolled on and saw the rest of my feed filled with the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. My brain started to hurt. Like someone had flicked an "off" switch, I felt the depression welling up, then pulling me down. "What's the point in working today?" it said. "What's the point of working when the world is so awful?”
You can't help thinking depression is putting up a good argument on days like these.
There is always something clamouring for our attention
The bad news never ends. We can only watch with horror as we witness:
- Ukrainians being attacked in their hometowns
- More examples of corruption in the government
- Fuel costs rise beyond our means
- The threat of oncoming nuclear war.
All this negative news forces me to take a hard look closer to home, and I can't help but wonder how much it's affecting my loved ones and me. My mind was a whirl of death tolls, hastily-assembled government PowerPoints, and politics I'd known hardly anything about a few short weeks ago.
My mind became so overloaded at several points that I was on the verge of tears. I couldn't process what the news was saying. I couldn't answer my family's stream of questions. I couldn't do anything, and I felt helpless.
Could I reverse the damage from social media?
I finally said: "STOP." I was being pushed too far, and my mental health was suffering.
While staying informed is a must, it's equally essential to take a step back and limit how much time you spend on social media and watching the news. Having a good grasp of what's going on doesn't need to be an "all day, every day" task.
I often found myself refreshing my feed on a loop to see what was happening with the war and if anyone would be held accountable. Unfortunately, accountability rarely happens - and it makes the world a little more unpleasant when we witness such gross injustice. We all know that life isn't fair, but come on! No wonder we all get riled up so quickly nowadays.
And social media is the perfect breeding ground for resentment, anger, and blowing off steam. News is no longer just news; it's branded to be as sensationalised as possible. Broadcasters and journalists want to inform the public - but they also crave likes, comments, reactions, and shares. Did you know that 8 out of 10 people will read a headline but not the rest of the text? News companies know this, so the most histrionic headline usually wins.
It is also vital to vet where you're getting your information. As I mentioned before, "trustworthy" social media accounts could, in reality, be spreading fake news. I've stumbled across "unbiased" political commentary online and cited it many times. Then I found out later that these trusted broadcasters had distorted context, falsified data, and very much had an agenda in mind.
I know it's not exactly my fault, but when I unearth my mistakes, I can't help but feel guilty. How many people's mental health have I unwittingly harmed further? How many days did I make a little bit worse? Sharing false information encourages a domino effect - how many of my followers shared that same article or video? Do they know (or care) that it's since been proved biased or wrong?
I've tried to be more careful with the news I share and the sources I take it from, but it's still a minefield. Even the most neutral news platforms have agenda biases or want to spin certain angles. I feel like no one can do right for doing wrong.
Would you consider social media boundaries to improve your mental health?
I know that being in a constant state of anger, frustration, and anxiety is not healthy. Now more than ever, we need to take care of our mental health.
The world won't come to a halt because we can't handle the bad news. We're not immune to tragedy, either. One day, the terrible things happening in a far-off country might happen to us.
However, we can put up some personal boundaries to stop us from feeling like we're drowning. For years, we've known that social media, smartphones, and television are somehow related to a rise in depression and anxiety.
And yet we still spend a noticeable part of our day interacting with it. In January 2022, the average time spent on social media was 2 hours 27 minutes a day.
So, by logging out of Facebook, are we in denial of what's happening around us? Or are we actively trying to repair what COVID-19 and the lockdown years have done to our mental and physical health?
Children born during the first lockdown are now two years old. How much have they been able to explore the outside world? How often have they seen their parents anxious, distracted, and distressed? With many of us still working from home, how many of us have relied on screens to act as semi-babysitters?
It's no one's fault. But experts predicted our obsession with screens long ago. We all agreed that it sounded like a problem but did nothing to stop it. And, now, we criticise kids for their fixation on the technology we bought for them. We can't solve war, but we can do something about our static, compulsive relationships with tech and social media.
We only occupy tiny spaces in a packed and growing world. Misery and worry are sometimes inevitable - but we’re not betraying anyone by trying to make ourselves happy and safe.
NPS-IE-NP-00426 May 2022