Share on Pinterest
The stress of negative news can affect your mental and physical health. Westend61/Getty Images
  • When bad news happens, one way that people respond is by “doomscrolling” the news on social media.
  • This can be a “safe” way to experience the “fight” portion of the “fight or flight” response, experts say.
  • However, the stress of negative news can also be damaging to our mental and physical health.
  • It’s important to strike the right balance with our news consumption in order to keep our anxiety in check.
  • Talking with a mental health professional for therapy or medication can help as well.

Mental health experts say that one way that people may respond to negative news coverage is by “doomscrolling” the news on social media.

Doomscrolling is a term that has been coined to describe the way that people scroll through social media and other online news sources focusing mainly on bad or frightening news.

Tonya C. Hansel, PhD, LMSW, doctorate of social work program director at Tulane University, said this tendency may be related to the “fight or flight” response.

When people are faced with a highly stressful situation, their innate tendency is to either run away from the danger or gear up to fight.

“Doomscrolling is possibly a safe way to experience the fight mechanism of stress or mentally preparing for negative situations,” Hansel said.

She also pointed to the idea that comparing one’s own life to one that’s more negative plays a role in self-validation.

Both responses are “perfectly natural,” she said, and help us avoid becoming too “Pollyannaish or unrealistically optimistic.”

“The problem,” Hansel said, “is becoming too wrapped up and overly focused on negative news.”

E. Alison Holman, PhD, FNP, a professor at the Sue and Bill Gross School of Nursing at the University of California, Irvine, said that being too wrapped up in bad news can be problematic because it’s associated with a greater chance of reporting acute stress symptoms.

These are early symptoms of post-traumatic stress, according to Holman, and are linked to subsequent mental health problems.

Among these problems can be depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In addition, physical health problems like pain and a greater risk for cardiovascular ailments, may be linked to high stress, she said.

In order to keep your news consumption in balance, Holman recommends the following:

  • Turn off the news.
  • Choose one to two reputable sources for your information.
  • Pick one to two times a day when you’ll check the news. Turn it off at other times.
  • Limit the amount of time you spend consuming news.
  • If you find yourself tempted to check, find an alternate behavior that you’ll engage in, such as going outside for fresh air or playing with your pet.
  • Avoid the news on social media. It’s often biased and filled with disinformation.
  • Use fact-checking sites such as Snopes before sharing any news you see on social media.
  • Check in with what your body is feeling when you consume the news. If you find yourself feeling tension or pain or are having trouble breathing, turn it off.
  • If you feel anxious when checking the news, stop and do something that makes you feel good, like listening to a song.
  • Connect with your loved ones to talk and receive comfort when you’re feeling stressed.

Hansel agreed with much of Holman’s advice, and suggested the following:

  • Avoid checking the news at bedtime since it makes it more difficult to fall asleep or sleep well if you’re focused on negativity.
  • Turn off the news when it begins to repeat since it’s no longer news.
  • Stay away from sensationalized news reports and opinions, as they can increase your stress level.
  • Read headlines first so you can decide what’s important to read rather than consuming every bit of information.

According to Hansel, if it gets to the point that you can’t reduce your stress levels with the steps outlined above or your coping skills aren’t effective, this is a sign that you need to reach out to a mental health professional.

She said that potential warning signs are:

  • being more angry
  • avoiding things you used to enjoy
  • displaying any behaviors that are interfering with your daily activities

Other possible signs of anxiety might include:

  • feeling restless or on edge
  • fatigue
  • problems concentrating
  • irritability
  • muscle tension
  • worry
  • sleep problems

“Talk therapy is one of the best ways to help with anxiety,” Hansel said. “This can help identify and address problematic behaviors and improve coping skills.”

Cognitive behavioral therapy is often considered to be the first-line treatment for an anxiety disorder. It’s well-established, effective, and provides lasting results.

This form of talk therapy focuses on identifying maladaptive thought patterns and helping people alter the patterns of behavior that stem from those thoughts.

“Medication is also an option and help to decrease severe anxiety,” Hansel said.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, these drugs are a safe and effective way to manage anxiety.

Anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines and antidepressants are often used to treat anxiety.