The Negative Effects of News and How to Protect Your Mental Health

Stay informed without sacrificing your mental health! Learn how news consumption can impact anxiety and depression, and discover strategies for healthier engagement. From setting boundaries to recognizing triggers, empower yourself to navigate the news cycle with resilience.

By Alan Deibel, LCPC

Updated on Apr 30, 2024

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News flash: the news may not be the best thing for your mental health

For better or worse, staying informed about current events and the news is easier than ever. Between TV, social media, the internet, and more old-school news outlets, we are constantly bombarded with information. The 24-hour news cycle never stops.

According to a survey of 266 therapists conducted by Grow Therapy, almost all those who were polled (99.6%) said that news consumption can have a negative impact on mental health on some level. While staying informed is important, there’s clearly a growing concern about the effects that the news may have on people’s well-being.

The Effects of News on Mental Health

Given the current state of the world, there’s no denying the news is stressful. Not to mention, due to our constant access to news coverage, this stressful news sometimes seems inescapable. Even if we aren’t looking for news, we somehow end up finding it, with social media and clickbait headlines popping up in places we least expect. 

Here are some stats regarding current events and how they’re stressing out American adults:

These are all topics we are exposed to over and over again on the news – whether we are watching it, reading it, or simply seeing headlines as we scroll through social media. Research shows that people are more likely to feel negatively affected by the news when it’s personally relevant to them. For example, a parent of school-age children may be more likely to have an intense visceral reaction to news about a mass school shooting, and someone who has lost a loved one due to COVID may be more sensitive to news exposure regarding the pandemic and public health.

“We have emotional and physical reactions – sometimes very quickly – when we watch the news, especially if we have a specific stance for or against what we are watching,” says Mindy Hall Czech, a licensed professional counselor with Grow Therapy. “A lot of us get a surge of anger when watching the news, which activates our sympathetic nervous system, which inevitably causes our body to release stress hormones.”

The sympathetic nervous system is what activates the stress response, AKA your fight-or-flight response. When your body is in this state, it releases adrenaline. This puts you on high alert and results in physiological changes like an increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and more rapid breathing. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is released as well. 

On top of these physiological changes, news fuels feelings of anxiety. “Anxiety functions in our body as a way to keep us from danger, or to the point where we are looking out for danger,” says Melody Wilson, a licensed clinical social worker with Grow Therapy. “Unfortunately, the news is all about danger for the most part, so it feeds that part of our body that is trying to protect us – in a maybe overloaded way.” 

The result? Your anxiety may build up and you may become even more hyper-aware of negativity in the world. You may fear for your well-being and safety more than you would if you weren’t consuming all this bad news. Constant streams of negative news can leave you feeling overwhelmed and helpless.

Disaster after disaster can cause you to develop more anxiety about something you were already scared about, or anxiety about something you weren’t even scared of before. News stories about rare but horrible events, such as plane crashes, lethal natural disasters, or terrorist attacks, can lead to heightened fears and phobias. Even though in the grand scheme of things, these events are statistically unlikely to happen to any given individual, the constant exposure to news coverage about them can make them feel more real, immediate, and impending, contributing to feelings of anxiety. News coverage tends to make it seem like there’s more bad in the world than there is good.

Not to mention, the news isn’t exactly beneficial to your mood. “Depression can set in overtime when we feel helpless over situations going on in the news that we feel we do not have any control over,” Czech says.

With all the depressing news out there, it’s no surprise that recent research has linked news consumption with depression symptoms. Especially if you already have some type of depressive disorder, watching or reading the news may cause a worsening of your symptoms. Ongoing exposure to negative news stories can contribute to feelings of hopelessness and despair, which are already common in those with depression.

So, no question about it: too much news – especially bad news – can be bad for your mental health.

Symptoms and Signs That News Could Be Negatively Affecting You

Not sure if the news is taking a toll on your mental health? One of the most obvious signs is if you’re noticing a correlation of increased feelings of anxiety, depression, or baseline stress levels after continuous periods of watching or reading the news, says Czech. 

Some symptoms of anxiety include:

Some symptoms of depression include:

Furthermore, specifically related to the news, Wilson says some signs that the news is negatively affecting you include:

These are signals that the news could be making you far more stressed out and on edge. Even when you aren’t actively consuming media, you may be thinking about it, and your subconscious could be keeping you hypervigilant against threats – ultimately worsening anxiety and mental health as a whole.

The Effects of Reading the News Versus Watching the News

More research is necessary to understand the mental health effects of reading the news versus watching the news to determine if one is more harmful to well-being than another.

However, therapists do have some thoughts on the matter.

Wilson says both types of media can be harmful, but watching the news may be a bit more intense due to the explicit images that are shown. When watching news coverage on TV or online, video footage can be very graphic. You may be bombarded with footage that shows violence, gore, or other types of disasters that can be hard to unsee. In this sense, watching the news leaves much less to the imagination. While reading the news may provide you with an image or two, it’s likely far less graphic and less intense than videos are. 

All of this considered, Czech believes it may be easier to physically escape the news when you’re watching it. “Watching the news, I find, is easier to turn off or turn the channel,” Czech says. “Reading the news [online], we go down the rabbit holes, click on hyperlinks for more information, and internalize our feelings more – which causes further emotional and physical damage to our minds and bodies.” (Enter: doomscrolling

That being said, everyone’s different. Some people might have a much easier time putting their phone away or closing out of an article versus turning off the TV. It all comes down to the individual.

If you want to continue to consume the news, it can be beneficial to take note of which media format affects you less negatively.

6 Tips for Consuming News in a Healthier Way

Let’s be realistic – it’s not realistic to avoid the news altogether. It’s going to pop up in some way or another. However, you do have a choice about how much you want to engage with it, and of course, how you handle it. 

Here are some tips for consuming news more healthily and protecting your mental health

1. Limit your exposure

Perhaps the most obvious tip is to limit your exposure, although this can be easier said than done. This means that you will need to set boundaries for how much news you consume, where you consume it, and when you consume it. For example, you might choose to watch or read the news for a limited amount of time each day or week, and avoid checking for updates on your phone throughout the day. If you use a news app, turn off its notifications.

Going cold turkey and attempting to cut out news altogether isn’t the best or most practical idea. Rather, Czech says you should aim for a long-term goal of moderation, taking small steps with short-term goals to get there. 

2. Know when you need to step away

Wilson says to remember you’re in control of your TV and phone. Know what warning signs of acute stress to look out for, like if you notice your muscles getting really tense, your heart rate increasing, or your mind starting to spiral. Honor your mind and body and know when your best bet is to step away. If you’re watching TV, change the channel or turn it off altogether. If you’re on your phone, go on a different app or put your phone away. Just because the news is at your fingertips, it doesn’t mean you have to engage with it.

3. Use tools to calm down

If you’re feeling stressed out, anxious, or triggered by watching the news, it’s important to take care of yourself and self-regulate. Wilson suggests deep breathing techniques or meditation, for example. These methods will help you come back into your body and activate your parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest system) and help turn off that fight-or-flight response that your body might be feeling after watching or reading something scary. Not to mention, these tools are beneficial to use anytime for overall self-care and wellness

4. Understand your triggers

By taking a step back and examining your news consumption, you may be able to identify certain patterns. For example, you might notice that stories about violence are particularly triggering, while updates on politics aren’t. Observe what types of stories are poking at your personal worries and anxieties.

“Is it a specific subject in the news that triggers anger or rage? At what point do you feel it bubbling up? Step away at that time, and write out your thoughts,” Czech recommends. This can also help you determine if you want to avoid this type of news coverage in the future.

Going a bit deeper, if you’re noticing very strong responses linked to certain news coverage, this could be a sign that it’s linked to past trauma, Wilson says. This could indicate that you have some unresolved trauma that could benefit from working with a therapist

5. Maintain perspective and think rationally

While it can be hard to do so when you’re experiencing acute stress and in fight or flight mode, try to think rationally.

Remember that the news is designed to grab your attention (hello, clickbait headlines) and that the world is not always as doomed as it may seem based on news coverage. Try to maintain perspective by focusing on rational thoughts instead of internalizing the news, catastrophizing, and jumping to worst-case scenarios.

It can also help to remember that not all news sources are created equal, and some can be more biased or negative than others. Be mindful of the sources you choose, and seek out news organizations that prioritize accuracy and balanced reporting. 

6. Put your passion to use

Sometimes, getting angry or upset can spark something in you to want to make a change. Czech recommends asking yourself if you’re passionate about a specific subject. If so, what can you do to get involved to make a difference, whether that’s locally, statewide, or nationally? You may find non-profits or other organizations to get involved with or volunteer when you feel inspired to make a difference. 

Whenever you consume the news, remember the possible adverse mental health outcomes, and stay mindful of any signs that the news could be negatively affecting you. Your own well-being is way more important than keeping up with the news all the time. 

If you notice your mental health is really struggling and your quality of life or day-to-day functioning are decreasing, don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional for help.

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
Alan Deibel, LCPC

Alan Deibel is a licensed clinical professional counselor with over 12 years of diverse clinical experience specializing in treating addiction, trauma, anxiety, and mood disorders.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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