It’s okay to take a media break

Graphic+by+Shirah+Lister

Graphic by Shirah Lister

Leah Carrier

When my parents gave me a phone in 6th grade, they said I was only allowed to use it to text, call and read. So I did just that. ‘News’ became my most used app–which wasn’t a problem until I found myself sitting on my couch, staring down in horror at an unnecessarily graphic photo in an article about a man who had his leg torn off by a bear. 

There are a couple of things we can take out of my wimpy experience. The first is that Arkoudaphobia is real. Look it up. The second, and more applicable lesson, is although you may not be as young and gullible as I was, we’re all still susceptible to the psychological risks of the media. For example, in my debacle, even though the image could have been faked and the article full of lies, the damage had been done. I was so genuinely spooked that I detached myself from the news for a whole month. 

 And these days, all you have to do is read the headlines. From BCC News: “Coronavirus: ‘One billion’ could be infected worldwide – report.” From CBS News: “US death toll tops 60,000.” From the Washington Post: “The coronavirus death toll just surpassed Vietnam.” Oh, and not to mention the photographs of affected doctors, patients, and families, which are perhaps even more poignant than the numbers.

From a logical standpoint, I’d assume that if the news scares me, then I will avoid it, because that’s how it works with me and horror movies (bio students, feast your eyes on that delicious hypothesis). The problem is, the brain was designed to be attracted to negative information. Scientists call this the ‘negativity bias.’ It’s a primitive defense mechanism that was useful for cave-people when they had to locate dangerous bears in order to avoid them. But in this day and age, the negativity bias does more harm than good by causing stress, anxiety, and overall messing with mental health.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not my wish to discourage you from remaining cogniscient of current events. Rather, I’m here to assure you that it is in fact a respectable decision to take a media break. You’re not doing anyone a disfavor by stepping back a bit. But if you’re a die-hard Times, Post, or whatever fan, then try directing your attention to more positive news. For example, coronavirus has caused a decline in wildlife trafficking, and animal cams are now a decent alternative to zoo outings. Go ahead and take some time to learn about giant otters. Even reading an article about small, meaningful acts of kindness is enough to dial down your stress.

Yeah, it’s hard to disregard a global pandemic. Even harder than forgetting about a bear attack. But there’s a wide margin between ignorance and blind panic. Ideally, you can situate yourself somewhere in the middle. •