Terrorism, Violence, and Natural Disasters Are Ruining Your Health
People in bloodied clothes from gunshot wounds, police in full combat gear carrying giant guns, patrons fleeing buildings while shrieking in terror, sidewalks and windows littered with bullet holes, shell casings and dead bodies…
As you may have guessed, this is not the plot to a crime movie — it’s the nightly news.
And this isn’t just in light of the Beirut and Paris attacks last week.
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, you have gruesome, terrifying, and negative images of human suffering in your view.
Is this ever flowing stream of fear, violence, and sadness doing more to you than just giving you the facts?
Yes, it is.
And there are ways to stop it. I will share a few in a moment.
When there isn’t new terrorism or crime to bring you down, there’s always the economy, political issues, natural disasters, chemical spills, puppies stuck in a well, illegal hunting, and celebrity divorces — you name it. Nothing but bad news to bum you out.
But it’s not just on the television anymore. You have an endless source of brutal, sad, and terrifying images at your fingertips.
Social media networks, news websites, mobile news alerts, and the radio all play their role in delivering all bad news all of the time.
If you’re anything like me, all of this bad news might be having an effect on you.
Your palms sweat and your stomach turns a bit before you even turn on your television or computer or check your mobile newsfeed as you prepare for the bad news just beyond the electronic gateway to gloom and doom.
And it seems we may not be alone.
Terrorism and Natural Disasters: Now Available at Arm’s Length
Starting with the Vietnam War, television news outlets began broadcasting grisly combat footage into American homes. This was just the beginning.
Over the decades, we have seen all types of human tragedies and natural disasters unfold in the comfort of our living rooms. From President Kennedy’s assassination to the Sept. 11 attacks to Hurricane Katrina to the Boston Marathon attacks to just last week’s attacks in Beirut and Paris — and so many in between.
So what is this constant saturation in the darkest parts of humanity doing to you?
Exactly what you think it’s doing.
Every time you feel nauseated after five minutes of news coverage or have that five seconds of panic you get before you know it’s going to be time for the 6 o’clock news you know it’s making you sick.
In fact, a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science after the Boston Marathon bombings found:
“The fact that a group of respondents from our national sample reported high acute stress raises the concern that prolonged media exposure could have far-reaching implications for population well-being. Indeed, respondents who engaged with media coverage for six or more hours daily in the week following the Boston Marathon bombings were nine times more likely to report high acute stress than respondents reporting minimal media exposure.” 1
While there is no doubt it’s upsetting to hear about national tragedies or natural disasters, it seems saturation in their disturbing images and devastating facts can lead to some shocking health consequences as well.
Real-time visual images of tragedy can increase stress levels and anxiety. Plus, the endless loop of the same tragic images (think the planes hitting the twin towers or people stranded on rooftops during Hurricane Katrina) and repetition of the events can even produce symptoms similar to those of post-traumatic stress disorder. 2
These days, it’s not just the recycled reel of heartbreaking shots of an event wreaking havoc on your health and emotions. It’s also the two-three days of aftermath and the new tragedy following it that add to the stress.
The study went on to conclude:
“Given that acute stress reactions may precede long-term mental (e.g., posttraumatic stress symptoms) and physical (e.g., cardiac) health ailments, our findings have significant implications. These potential health risks may be further intensified by the nature of some collective events that continue beyond an initial trauma (e.g., the lockdown after the Boston Marathon bombings, the Washington, D.C. sniper shootings), because individuals remain vigilant and may regularly scan media sources for information about ongoing threats.”1
And the media are really good at keeping the stress coming. With so many news outlets, the media haves to find ways to sensationalize events in order to get and keep your attention, at the risk of your health.
News can become more stressful for you when it strikes a chord.
For instance, if you have children and you see a story about a school shooting, instinctively your stress level is going to rise. You will start to think about the dangers your children could face at school or elsewhere.
That’s a normal reaction. It’s when you watch the story repeatedly and follow it for the next week that things become troublesome.
But you can take back your time, health, and well-being from the media.
Throw the Fear out With the News Stream
It is important to stay abreast of the events in the world. However, your health is more important. Here are a few tips to cut out health-deteriorating media exposure and keep the news in your life relevant to your interests:
- Pick the Right Time: Choose either the morning or the evening news. By choosing a time of day, you can get the most recent update at the same time every day. This method will halt your viewing of the same images or hearing the same negative stories many times in a single day.Also, if there is a specific story or event you are interested in (i.e., a school shooting, if you’re a parent or grandparent), just check updates on that specific story once or twice during the day. This will stop you from taking in any other negative news that isn’t directly affecting to you.
- Station Monogamy: The media are truly global these days. It’s safe to say that all outlets are broadcasting pretty much the same stories daily. Pick a news source that is most congruent with your thoughts and beliefs. Then follow that channel. And more importantly, choose one with an anchor you can connect with. It may be less traumatic to hear bad news from someone you see on a daily basis. Plus, it’s always a good option to choose a station that provides warnings to viewers before showing graphic content.
- Clean up Your Feed: Social network newsfeeds are a major source of news for most of us. I know I used to get most of my news from my Facebook feed. Clean out things that you know are going to be negative. I cleaned out 13 sources from my feed around the time of Fukushima due to the overwhelming amount of coverage. Use a news site instead of mobile tickers or alerts. This way you are in control of when you get your news, instead of having your day interrupted by it.
- Choose Your Arena: Be sure to pick where you want to receive your news. My home is a news- free zone. I don’t watch it on the television or access it from my phone or computer. (Obviously, these rules go out the window in times of hazardous weather or a local emergency.) Otherwise, I only check the news from my computer at work. Choosing a designated place to view or read news keeps it out the majority of your life and reduces the constant exposure.
I hope these helpful tips will aid you in reducing the amount of negative news in your life and also increase your health.
Please write me! Let me know if the media are affecting your health! Nmoore@lfb.org
Managing editor, Living Well Daily
Written By Natalie Moore
Natalie Moore is a dedicated health researcher with a passion for finding healthy, natural, and science-based solutions. After a decade of direct healthcare experience in western and natural medicine, she was involved in public health research before joining Living Well Daily.
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