Should You Withdraw From News When It Depresses You?
Recently, there was horrendous news of four people torturing an innocent person in my city, Chicago. They cut into his scalp, forced him to drink toilet water, and posted humiliating videos of him to Facebook while holding him captive. Obviously that kind of thing makes me depressed. How could anyone do such terrible things to another person?
Every day, there are murders in Chicago. Almost all of it is gang and drug related, but innocent people are sometimes caught in the crossfire. Murder is a sad fact of life, and many young people in this city deal with losing friends on a regular basis to violence.
Depressing news is, I don't think, unique to Chicago though. Murders happen everywhere. So do fatal diseases with disgusting and horrible effects. In other parts of the world, earthquakes and tsunamis are common. In other places, war and terrorism tear apart communities as surely as gang wars tear apart mine.
The media focuses on the bad stuff. Sometimes news is positive, but the big 24/7 news organizations are always looking out for their "if it bleeds, it leads" stories. But they're not showing the peace, prosperity, and happiness that does exist in the world, only the bad stuff: poverty, crime, disease, war, terrorism, and death. This leads me to asking the big question: is constantly following the news bad for our mental well-being? Is ignorance bliss? Should we boycott the news until they film just as many rainbows and kittens as they do hurricanes and political scandals? And what is the purpose of the news?
Journalism has lofty intentions, or at least, it does to J-School professors and a little less so to actual media companies. The intended purpose of journalism is to facilitate a robust democracy by keeping the voting public well informed. Too often, however, in the real world, journalism is just PR and advertisement, and it damn near may as well be a fictional TV show for how much of its "reality" is heavily edited through the biased lens of the media company.
So, if your goal is to be a well-informed citizen, mainstream journalism in the U.S. is NOT probably the way to go on this anyway. Internet blogging journalism is better, because many of those people are trying to build a reputation for credibility. A blogger relies on his or her readers. Journalists in bigger companies rely more on the advertising companies. Creating hysteria and panic is good for business, good for ratings. It gets people clicking and Tweeting. But this leads to the mentality of hyper-accentuating the negative in world events.
In short, I don't think we should stop watching or stop caring. What if nobody had seen 9/11 live or heard about it, outside of New York City? Sometimes the news is important. But keeping our need for mental health in mind, here's some things I would do to balance the negativity of the news:
- Spend time doing something creative that you like doing, not for money, but just for the sake of it. It could be a traditional craft your family's been doing since Washington was president, or it could be a new thing you start yourself. I find that creating things with my hands makes me feel better about myself. It's very satisfying to look at something and know you built it.
- Withdraw from social media for a day, week, month, however long you need. You don't need the plus-signs and likes and hearts of strangers. Get off the wagon when it comes to seeking approval from others. Approve of yourself, and that's enough.
- If you're bummed out by a negative news story affecting your community, try to balance it out by finding the good in your community. Do tourists go there? What do they like about coming to where you live? A city can be noisy and full of crime, but it can also be seen as vibrant, lively and full of unique and varied experiences you can't get in the country. Cities are cultural centers, boasting the best in museums, galleries, libraries, and historical sites. Living out in the Everglades? Florida Man might strike every now and then, or an irritably drunk alligator, but you live in a beautiful place. You can find what's nice about your community that still makes it worth it to live there. Don't just listen to the negative side of things.
- Read stuff that's not depressing. As anime fans, I think we tend to be pulled towards the bright colors and fantasy lands of anime because our reality is grey. But it doesn't have to be fiction good, reality bad. Many true tales are also inspiring. You could also go with a book on something you'd like to get better at or improve about yourself. Find yourself something nice at the library or on Amazon. Spend time reading before bed. A little routine like that can make you feel less empty and less alone.
- Don't just take in political news from the side you already agree with. When you read both sides of the issue, you end up with a more balanced perspective that recognizes that the other side is just as human as you, and just as much trying to do good. When you realize that your arguments only arise because you disagree on how best to do good and make the country or town you live in a better place, you stop treating them as if they were Batman villains. Every news source is biased politically in some way. What I do is balance my time between reading and hearing people I like but disagree with, like and agree with, and I even challenge myself to occasionally read people I just kind of hate. It is, after all, much easier to be tolerant of your in-group than your out-group (you should totally read this article on that). But we should be trying to practice tolerance, patience, and kindness towards everyone. Love your neighbor and all that.
You need to take care of yourself. With the advent of the internet, the good thing is that no one can really force you to consume or not consume any given media. In 1970, anyone with a TV had three channels to choose from. Now, we have nearly unlimited viewing choices. What we do with this freedom of choice will end up shaping who we are psychologically. It's as if you're the parent of yourself; you can screen what you listen to, what you see on TV, what movies you see, and what you see on the news. And sometimes, for the sake of your inner peace, it's a good thing to take a break from the aggressive "if it bleeds it leads" journalism and do things that nurture and heal yourself. But remember that it's also a good thing to stay informed, to have a political opinion backed by relevant facts. So, withdraw from news media when you feel you need to, come back when you feel you're ready. Be a good parent to your inner child.