The conflict in Israel and Gaza has dominated the news cycle for the last week. Turn on the TV or log on to any social media platform and you’ll be confronted with a barrage of horrific headlines.
While staying informed is important, consuming an excess of graphic images and videos can negatively affect your mental health.
Media exposure to mass violence can fuel a “cycle” where the viewer is highly distressed by the news and that causes them to consume even more of it, according to a recent study.
“Nothing good” happens to your brain when you see violent images, says Iliyan Ivanov, a professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
For adults who have experienced trauma or who have mood disorders, the effects can be triggering.
“People with some level of anxiety might have some apprehension about what may come next because the situation is so fluid and uncertain,” he tells CNBC Make It. “There is always this sense like: ‘What else might be coming? Something terrible is going to happen.'”
There are ways, though, to consume the news and still take care of your mental health.
Read judiciously, says Alison Holman, a professor of psychological science at the University of California, Irvine. Holman researches trauma and media exposure.
“Identify sources of news that are reliable and trustworthy,” Holman says. “In other words, they provide actual news. What I recommend is you pick the top two, maybe three resources.”
You don’t need to consume hours and hours of coverage to be informed. “Put aside time in the day and say, ‘I’m going to spend 15 to 20 minutes reading about what’s going on so I know what’s happening,'” she says. “And then do it again in the evening.”
This isn’t about consuming less news, she adds. It’s about not consuming an excess. “It’s important that people not put their heads in the sand.”
“Graphic images will affect us much more [than reading articles],” Ivanov says, because “80% of the information the brain takes is from visual cues.”
Platforms like YouTube, he says, where there is an endless stream of video, are less than ideal.
“A lot of bad things happen,” he says. “Do I need to see thousands of people dying? Of course not. There is no need to see everything in detail to understand how terrible it is.”
Reading articles, even if they have graphic details, is a better idea, he says.
And just because you believe a source is reputable, Holman says, doesn’t mean you need to engage with everything it publishes.
“Reading a story as opposed to watching several videos is important,” she says. “The New York Times just published a bunch of videos that were quite graphic on their website and I was sitting there hoping not many people were consuming them.”
Everyone’s needs and capacities are different. Oftentimes, your body will tell you when it’s time to log off and do something else, Holman says.
“Are you starting to feel tension in your neck or shoulders?” she says. “Is your breathing becoming more shallow? You don’t want to let yourself get caught up where you’re barely breathing.
“Pay attention to the signals of what your body is telling you as you’re engaging with the news. You can identify what’s triggering you to have a strong reaction.”
Make sure you’re filling the rest of your day with activities that bring you joy or relaxation.
“Find something else to do,” Holman says. “Find some guilty pleasure. Whatever helps you process what you’re learning. Just don’t allow yourself to get isolated and sucked into the news by yourself.”
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