Watching news can be worse than experiencing it in reality

This article about what psychologists found in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings has an important lesson for us as we navigate the coronavirus crisis: Watching or reading news coverage about a traumatic event can have a negative impact on our mental well-being that is far worse than experiencing the event first-hand.

This is because of something called negativity bias. Psychologically, focusing on threats at a distance, makes us feel cautious and safe. But if we focus on it for too long, it causes more harm than good. Picture this. You are living in a cave (like people did, millions of years ago) and you wake up to see a bright blue sky with a few clouds in the distance. But you also see a rival tribe getting ready to attack you. It makes sense to forget about the beautiful blue sky and the chance of rain which can help your crops grow and focus on defending yourself against attack.

And if you are part of a third tribe, which just heard news that a weak tribe had been wiped out and the victorious tribe is marching towards you, you would panic.

This is the negativity bias. The fear of something bad can be worse than the actual bad thing happening to you.

Today’s situation is no different. But there are a lot of things we can do to deal more effectively with bad news. Start with these:

Permission to be positive

Fear shuts down our ability to think clearly, weakens our immune system, and impairs our judgement. So it is important to understand that what we need from watching news or reading constant updates online is information that we can act on.

But we already know everything we need to know. The latest number of infections or stories of how people are putting themselves at risk only feeds our fear. It doesn’t help us do anything. So be conscious of how much ‘news’ you consume.

It’s ok if you don’t do anything.

Being productive during the pandemic was not our life’s goal. There are people around you who love you and will care for you if you need help. You can always ask for help. Developing and nurturing personal connections are more important than working or achieving something amazing.

You already know what you need to know

Unless you are a doctor, nurse, or part of a team that is on the frontlines, you already know what you need, to keep yourself safe – so stop watching the news and focus on just feeling safe. Focus on ensuring your grandparents and parents are happy. Help your children learn something new. Be curious with them, and smile!

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