Think again before feeling guilty for not keeping up with current events. A national survey conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health found that watching, reading, or listening to the news caused people greater stress and anxiety. Published online by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on July 7, 2014, the study was part of an ongoing series on public opinion.
Polling for Stress
Including more than 2,500 participants, the study polled adults 18 years old and older, assessing the occurrence of stress in their personal lives, perceived effects and causes of stress, along with their coping techniques and general attitude towards stress. Almost half of the participants reported experiencing an anxiety-inducing event within the past year and one in four admitted to having a significant amount of stress within the past month alone.
The Media's Influence on Our Mental Health
The quarter of those who reported experiencing a great deal of stress within the month mentioned watching, reading, or listening to the news as one of their biggest daily stressors. This discovery isn't the first of its kind; it supports previous research that suggests that media has a significant influence on our mental and emotional health.
A similar study that observed the public reactions of the Boston bombings provides more insight on these findings. "People who exposed themselves to six or more hours of media daily actually reported more acute stress symptoms than did people who were directly exposed," Alison Holman, professor at University of California Irvine and author of the study, told NPR. She suggests that the repetitive showing of traumatic clips and images that are likely to be displayed on news outlets can be the cause for such extreme reactions.
Who's at Fault?
Researchers note that news media may not be solely at fault for this kind of stress—consumers are equally responsible. Media outlets can help by announcing trigger warnings before reporting any traumatic stories. Correspondingly, consumers should avoid binging on sensationalist news stories. While studies have shown that it is a biological instinct to pay close attention to potential threats, obsessively researching traumatic events can wear down our mental health.
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NPR, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Harvard School of Public Health. The Burden of Stress in America. Public Opinion Poll Series, 2014. DOI: http://www.rwjf.org/en/research-publications/find-rwjf-research/2014/07/the-burden-of-stress-in-america.html
Date of original publication: July 13, 2014
Updated: November 10, 2015