Mia Brown, one of UCL's Social and Wellbeing Volunteers, discusses show she feels limiting your daily intake of the news can help your wellbeing.
News is to the mind what sugar is to the body. This is the simple premise behind Rolf Dobelli’s book and personal mantra, Stop Reading the News, published earlier this year. Entrepreneur and bestselling author, Dobelli, used to be a self-proclaimed news addict; he has now been news-free for a decade, and happier than ever.
His manifesto for a ‘happier, calmer and wiser life’ with the absence of news feels more poignant and timelier than ever amidst the thralls of a global pandemic. We find ourselves desperately scrolling, ingesting every bulletin in hope and in vain of making sense of a world which suddenly makes no sense at all. Dobelli confirms, ‘our brains are desperate for stories that “make sense” as quickly and simply as possible’. News corporations sate this desire, constructing pseudo-stories emitting a false sense of comprehension, eliminating nuances and unwholesomely dishonouring the bigger picture. The news typically focuses on events detached from wider context; you may gobble down all the latest reports and facts of war in the Middle East but won’t get any closer to truly understanding the war. News gives us the illusion of understanding the world, Dobelli asserts. It champions cursory, frenzied, superficial and distracted learning. This, in turn, actually alters our brain structure, producing shallow thinkers with a critical dearth of concentration. In contrast, deep reading—in the form of a considered non-fiction book and quality investigative or explanatory journalism—fuels clear, democratic thought. In short, it makes you wiser. Thomas Jefferson sensed this over 200 years ago: ‘The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them’.
On top of damaging concentration and granting a false sense of understanding, the news also radically disrupts our wellbeing. Research shows that watching repeated news coverage following the 9/11 attacks actually triggered PTSD symptoms in viewers. Our endless cycle of news means we do not even have to be present at ground zero to experience traumatic impact. Furthermore, a study published in 2011 in the British Journal of Psychology, proves that watching the news for merely 14 minutes is harmful; let alone being bombarded hour after hour. And for those already suffering from anxiety and depression, consuming the news can only worsen these symptoms. You can help yourself by switching it off. Yet, undoubtedly, many may find this cold-turkey approach too radical and too difficult, perhaps feeling a civic duty to at least stay minimally informed. If this is the case, limit yourself to reading daily (or better, weekly) newsletters delivered straight to your inbox to prevent unrestrained browsing, or consider asking Alexa for the top stories; this detached, robotic run-down is less likely to trigger detrimental affects.
So, remember, we are all at liberty to withdraw from the relentless, toxic flood of news. To take a salubrious step-back, and to embrace the happier, calmer and wiser life that awaits. I challenge you.
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