I have to admit — I have watched more television in the last year than I have in a long, long time. Much of that viewing was for fun … Netflix binges, newly released movies available in the comfort of my own home, and many, many reruns of Family Feud. A good amount of my television consumption though has also been of the news. Between coverage of COVID and the 2020 election alone I have easily logged dozens of hours of media-watching. And I am absolutely sure I am caught in an emotional and behavioral feedback loop … with anxiety at the wheel.
So how have I used skills to hep me take the helm back, and limit my media viewing? Especially the particularly anxiety-inciting news channels that fuel fear by design? Here are my top five tips for what to do if you, too, are experiencing media-induced stress:
- Mindfulness — Bring non-judgmental awareness to yourself in the moment. Practice observing your emotions and sensations, and use the describe skill to name what you notice. Gathering this data about what is here right now helps in various ways — it can shift attention to something other than the content of your thoughts, ground you in the present moment, and give you really good information about what to do next!
- Rate your SUDs — an extension of mindfulness, giving your emotional experience an objective rating will help you to decide what other skills may best suit your needs in this moment.
- Bringing intentional attention to my stress allowed me to see that I was feeling more stressed when I watched the news versus when I watched game shows … which helped me make the decision to limit my news intake to mostly written news instead of televised programming. You too can decide that limiting your media intake might help mitigate your stress, and instead of watching the news you can go for a walk outside, call a friend or otherwise distract with the pleasant activity of your choice.
- Breathe. Whatever breath practice you prefer — square breathing, bringing mindfulness to the breath as it is, or the classic paced breathing — bringing attention to your breath can calm the nervous system and is one of my favorite strategies to manage stress of any kind!
- Checking the facts can also help reduce stress that comes from watching the news. I know it is often hard to decipher what is true from what is opinion in the media these days, and it is even harder when the news content is about distressing topics. But checking the facts can still help us to identify any assumptions or interpretations we are making (beyond information we are provided) that may be leading to more intense feelings than may be warranted at this moment.