One of the most frequent expert suggestions for dealing with anxiety during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is limiting the news and other media we are bombarded with. The intention is not for individuals to remain in ignorant bliss, but instead to balance being informed while simultaneously being effective during a period of rapid changes, challenges, and stressors.
It is important to keep in mind that news organizations are business. They profit by holding your attention for as long as possible, and in doing so increasing the value for their advertisers. They understand that anxiety provoking information (of which there is currently no shortage) will hold their viewers and readers attention. If they limited their information for what is important for you to know practically, they would not have content to fill the 24-hour news cycle. Additionally, not all sources are equally reliable and may perpetuate unhelpful information so as to generate a click-bait headline.
The information increases anxiety because they continuously present you with information about danger, repeatedly activating the anxiety centers of your brain. The information can also lead to feelings of helplessness and sadness, given that much of what is occurring is out of your control. For individuals predisposed to anxiety and depression, these conditions can spiral out of control. Unfortunately, when you are in these emotional states, you will likely be less capable of controlling the matters that you can control. These include, following the hygiene and social distancing recommendations of the WHO and the CDC, trying to remain physically active, digitally social, and helping out those in greater need.
Perhaps you are already convinced that limiting Coronavirus related media would be helpful, but you tried that yesterday, and somehow you consumed just as much or more media than you intended. That is when a personalized strategy becomes necessary.
- To increase motivation for making this effort, list all the ways this is impacting you. List all the activities you could be doing instead of consuming hours of media.
- Reflect on the beliefs that are maintaining this behavior and find more helpful cognitive and behavioral responses. For example replacing ‘it’s my responsibility to know what’s going on so I need to keep the news on in the background,’ with ‘I need to know what is required of me in this situation, so I will check trustworthy sources such as the WHO and the CDC for a predetermined amount of time.’
- Identify personal triggers for news binging such as the television remote, specific apps on your cell phone and websites. These can also include internal/emotional triggers such as boredom, anxiety, or even hunger. Limit access to the environmental triggers, come up with alternative ways to address these emotions.
- Accumulate a list of alternative behaviors you could do instead of consuming additional news. The list should include productive, entertaining, relaxing, and engaging options.
- Find a friend or love one who shares this goal to increase social accountability
The goal is not perfection, but in the absence of a plan, it is easy to revert to news binging and the emotional toll could it take. Be kind to yourself. Shut the screens.
Dr. Elliot Kaminetzky is an OCD and anxiety specialist with a private practice in downtown NYC.
If you live in New York State and are interested in treatment for anxiety or OCD: