Reading a lot of bad news has been linked to anxiety, high stress levels, and poor physical health in a new US study.

Good news has been hard to find over the past couple of years. There have been record-breaking droughts. Record-breaking floods. Covid. Russia invading Ukraine. Mass shootings. Even murder hornets. 

It’s probably not surprising this constant stream of bad news is having negative effects on our physical and mental wellbeing. 

Bryan McLaughlin, the study’s lead author and associate professor at Texas Tech University, says people who are exposed to bad news on a regular basis have reported “significantly greater physical ill-being”.

“Witnessing these events unfold in the news can bring about a constant state of high alert in some people, kicking their surveillance motives into overdrive and making the world seem like a dark and dangerous place.” 

In the study, 1,100 US adults were surveyed about both their news habits and physical and mental wellbeing.

The results revealed that 16.5% of respondents showed signs of “severely problematic” news consumption.

These people also reported that news stories dominate their waking thoughts, make it difficult to focus at work or school, and disrupt their sleep.

“A vicious cycle can develop in which, rather than tuning out, they become drawn further in, obsessing over the news and checking for updates around the clock to alleviate their emotional distress,” says McLaughlin

“But it doesn’t help, and the more they check the news, the more it begins to interfere with other aspects of their lives.”

The study also shows that 73.6% of participants that were identified to have “severely problematic” news habits also experienced mental ill-being “quite a bit” or “very much”. Only 6% of other survey respondents experienced these symptoms.

Additionally, 61% of problematic news consumers reported experiencing poor physical health “quite a bit” or “very much” compared to only 6.1% for all other study participants.

The study points a finger at the news industry itself, saying there needs to be a wider discussion about how it fuels this problem.

“The economic pressures facing outlets, coupled with technological advances and the 24-hour news cycle, have encouraged journalists to focus on selecting ‘newsworthy’ stories that will grab news consumers’ attention,” McLaughlin says.

He adds that when people start to recognise the consequences of news addiction, they tend to stop reading the news altogether - but that comes with its own problems.

“Tuning out comes at the expense of an individual’s access to important information for their health and safety, it also undermines the existence of an informed citizenry, which has implications for maintaining a healthy democracy,” he says.

“This is why a healthy relationship with news consumption is an ideal situation.” 

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