Frequent exposure to trauma via the media is known to cause stress and anxiety. But Emily Fletcher, a world-class meditation teacher, emphasized that stressing ourselves out isn’t beneficial to anyone. Here’s how she taught us to avoid media-induced stress and have a positive impact on the world during her A-Fest talk in Mexico in 2016.
You stressing out about things that are happening in the world isn’t helping anything. It’s only contaminating the collective mind. Unless you’re gonna do something about it.
It’s no secret: televised trauma has negative effects on the emotional well-being of television viewers. Uncontrolled fear, sleeping difficulties, and fearful thoughts are some of the reported effects that viewing traumatic newscasts has.
Many studies have shown that our emotional and mental health suffers from extended exposure to the broadcast of trauma.
But before we give you our three tips to avoid media-induced stress, a little background on why extensive media consumption can be harmful. And how it stops us from taking the action that’s needed to make this world a better place.
Media Consumption Can Cause More Stress Than the Actual Event
In her A-Fest talk, Emily Fletcher referred to a study that found that repeated bombing-related media exposure to the Boston Marathon bombings was associated with higher acute stress than direct exposure:
Six hours of media consumption on the Boston bombings caused more instances of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), than the actual event for the people that were there.
Restlessness, helplessness, overwhelm, stress, anxiety. They’ve all been reported as effects of extensive media exposure on trauma. And it doesn’t seem like the daily news covers much other than that.
War, terrorist attacks, mass shootings, starvation, the sexual exploitation of women and children, violence against specific ethnic or racial groups, or violence against animals. They’re all just some examples of the “common” images we encounter in the media.
Incredibly saddening, worrisome, and plain traumatic footage is floating by in an endless stream of misery, one story more horrific than the other, and yet we take it all in over breakfast. Voluntarily. With a cup of coffee in our hands. While we’re shaking our heads and trying not to be affected by it, so we can just go about our days again.
Do we really have to follow the news every day?
If you are not going to do anything about it, I recommend that you just drive on by.
What Are We Looking At When We Watch The News?
Most people are encouraged to watch the news daily early on in their lives.
In my case, as a former Communications student, I had to actually study the news to get a better understanding of how people communicate, how mass media work, and why angles and target audiences matter when you want to get a message of any kind across.
And although it did not come as a surprise, the findings were still startling when given the task to compare the reports of (global) media on the same event.
Every newspaper, broadcasting station, and other media outlet obviously uses different wording and headlines to report on the same facts. But before any story is ever broadcasted, the story’s angles are selected too. And this is the moment in which context is added.
In the best-case scenario, the angle, and context are used to make the story easier to digest and understand.
Worst case scenario, it’s used to frame stories in a certain way, so that it would lead the audience to come to a certain desired conclusion.
Why We Should Be Equally Selective as the Media Are
We want to be careful about how much media we’re ingesting and especially, what kind.
After the whole “fake news media storm,” nobody is shocked anymore to hear that — regardless of intentions — news media cannot be objective reporters of global, national, or regional events. That simply wouldn’t be an option, even if they wanted to.
Out of the multitude of events happening simultaneously over the course of a day, the media have to select which events to report on. And which to leave out.
Does that mean those other events did not occur at all? Of course not. But it does mean that for various reasons one title chooses event A over event B, and the other might choose differently.
However, one thing is clear: trauma sells, so that will be on the menu for sure. Despite the proven negative effects on our emotional well-being.
Emily Fletcher also pointed out in her talk, that the average American in this day and age receives more stimuli in one week than our ancient ancestors did in their entire lives.
So why wouldn’t we make conscious decisions when it comes to the type of news and information that we allow to enter our minds?
Not in an effort to step away from what’s happening, but to do the exact opposite: to move towards the one thing we truly want to fix in the world. If we take in less traumatic images, we get to spare our energy, so we can actually do something about the issues that we care about.
3 Tips to Avoid Media-Induced Anxiety and Make the World A Better Place
1. Select your media and news sources with care
Even if your career requires you to be ‘up-to-date’ you can still consciously choose the number of news stories you confront yourself with and the quality of the journalism you allow into your life.
You can and should be critical about your sources and the type of content you consume. Always remember that your health and well-being are on the line.
2. Use your ‘daily news time’ to learn something new instead
One of the arguments used to entice people to watch the news is that it is beneficial for one’s general development. And depending on your profession this totally makes sense. But only up to a certain point:
If reading newspapers and watching the news on TV takes up more than an hour of your time every day, you can also ask yourself: what other learning activities could I undertake at that time?
You could read a book instead, follow an online course or have a deep conversation with someone you love.
And which activity do you think will allow you to have a bigger impact on the world?
3. Do something about the issue you care about most
You probably have a lot of things that you could offer the world. But we want to ask ourselves: which of my gifts best serve the need of the time?
How do you want to be of service?
Emily Fletcher suggests in her A-Fest talk to watch the news 1 time, and read the newspaper once or twice. Just enough for us to understand the need for our time, so we can start finding a solution without feelings of overwhelm or stress.
Here are the four questions Emily recommends you ask yourself in order to find the one thing you care about most that you can help fix or change in the world with your unique set of gifts:
- What’s the most pressing need of the time?
- How do my gifts best serve the need of the time?
- Which of these gifts do I want to do?
- Which of these gifts do I want to do right now?
The quality of our questions determines the quality of our lives.– Tony Robins