Take out the news. Bring in the old. News fatigue is a thing. Here’s what it is and what you can do about it.

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When the terrorist attacks on the Taj Hotels in Mumbai took place on November 28th, 2008, the news was inescapable. Be it on the radio, the TV, the newspapers, or the internet - the news simply insisted itself upon us. It was harrowing. It did not stop there. It is 2020, and people today have greater access to content than ever before in history. And what’s more, most of it is free and available anytime, almost anywhere, in the palm of their hands. The surfeit of news is still harrowing. But now there is a word for it: News fatigue.

The Urban Dictionary defines news fatigue as: “becoming tired of the constant negativity or political propaganda in the news. People with news fatigue might decide to stop all news consumption for the purpose of being more at peace and improving their mental health and mood and may then find themselves happier and with more energy to do the things they enjoy.”

All over the world, people are turning off their notifications, choosing the Do-Not-Disturb option, shutting off their screens, and tossing out the papers because it’s all become too much. For many, “reading the news” is now reduced to skimming headlines, especially when the news does not impact oneself directly or immediately.

“The larger definition of news has changed from information generation to opinion creation.”
- Shivranjana, content writer

The fact of it is, very little of what makes the news is what you'd call pleasant. The modern, perennially -digitally -connected person is actually more news-averse today. The Reuters Institute’s 2017 Digital News Report found that between 6% and 57% of populations worldwide said they “sometimes” or “often” avoided the news, usually because they did not trust it or found it upsetting. 

Ramifications of COVIDCovid-19 and the subsequent lockdowns have kept us indoors and so it is only natural that we seek knowledge of what is happening outside. It’s not exactly FOMO, but here is a time of huge uncertainty and we feel that stayingbeing informed is one way to allay anxiety. But is it?

25-year old Shubheksha Jalan, a backend engineer in the UK says, “I was waking up feeling okayish despite everything that was going on. Then I open Twitter or any other source of news and BAM, I feel absolutely paralyzed and all my plans for the day are in the bin even before the day starts. It feels like consecutive punches to the gut with no warning whatsoever.”

Shivranjana is a 29-year old Bangalore-based writer who has seen the shift in how information has become platform-agnostic, making its way into social media as well. She says, “Social media which was initially a way to connect personally, became another repository of news, more so panic screaming of everything wrong with the world... Another aspect or reason for the exhaustion is digital activism in the form of virtue signalling.”

“News is essential to a certain time, and a certain medium, reliable and staunch.”
– Sana Munir, author

The Covid-19 news fatigue has officially set in worldwide. The building anxiety, the finger looming over the mass panic button, and general powerlessness seems to be something the news-fatigued have in common. 
 
Nadair Khan, a 37-year old working in the aviation industry shares, “My job involves constant travelling and we are first in the line of fire health-wise. Workwise, it was just a matter of time before we were made redundant. People have loans, responsibilities, mouths to feed. The news just augmented my fears, both physically and financially. ”
 
Individuals living with anxiety disorders are even more uncertainty-averse, and for them especially, negative news has a negative psychological impact. It seems to tally that the more news we consume, the more  becomes available. It’s suddenly all “Breaking News”, demanding our attention, and raising red flags of panic. This increased emotional intensity of coverage translates into greater negativity which keeps us glued to our phones, laptops, and news tickers.
 
SR, a 48-year old lawyer and self-confessed news addict, agrees. He has now completely stopped watching the news and exited WhatsApp groups since March 22nd of this year because, “(It) started getting too toxic.”

Take the bull by the remote control:

It is absolutely okay to tune out the news if you grow distressed, and especially if you have experienced trauma or have a mental health condition. Here are some tips for your well-being:

  1. For news junkies: Rumour and speculation can fuel anxiety. Be discerning with your news sources and access only reliable information to help you feel more in control.
  2. Avoid reading or watching anything distressing  just before bedtime. Relax by tuning in to sports or entertainment.
  3. The Internet is infinite and there will never be a dearth of information. Maintain a shut off time at least an hour before bedtime and limit your surfing time
  4. Consider removing news and social media apps from your phone and restrict checking them to only from your laptop/ desktop
  5. Create a new daily routine that prioritises looking after yourself – try reading more, or watching movies, followinghaving an exercise routine, try to meditatinge or using new relaxation techniques. Look up stuff you were always interested in.
  6. Try and rest and view this as a new if unusual experience, that might have its benefits.    
Sana Munir, an author in Lahore, Pakistan shares her coping mechanisms. She began a social media project that entailed, “posting pictures of the buildings from the Sikh and Mughal era on Twitter to break the timeline which was filled with horror and dismay, anger and uncertainty. I started a Lockdown Diary Day Countdown… and posted a new story with pictures, every day for 46 days and many people appreciated it. I made new friends. Now I see them posting flowers, the sky and food pictures, instead of news forwards.”
 
Mahinn Ali Khan is the Head of Communications for the Bangalore Life Science Cluster. She has a keen interest in mental health issues and looks at ways to open conversations on wellness within the scientific community.