“News Fast”: A Coping Strategy for Too Much Negativity

Just because bad news is all around doesn’t mean we have to keep up with it all the time. So said Dr. Andrew Weil, in fact, in his first edition (1997) of Eight Weeks to Optimum Healthand I’ve been an advocate of this type of “news fast” approach ever since.

Going without news, whether for a few days or a whole week, can be helpful to our overall well-being. Many will wonder, If I stop paying attention to the news, won’t I miss important things that are going on? Things I absolutely need to know? 

Unlikely. Anything you really need to know will get to you somehow. If you don’t believe this, just try it out.

Top Google employee Matt Cutts engaged in a news fast—and lived to blog about it. First there was withdrawal.

The first few days of going news-free were awful. I was unmoored without a constant stream of events to pay attention to. But within a few days, I started to relax and focus more. Without news to occupy me, large swaths of time of time have opened up to do other things. I’ve gotten a lot more stuff done in the last couple weeks. It’s curiously freeing to have no idea who won Super Tuesday or what company just bought what other company. When an occasional piece of news lands in front of me, I’m much more aware of my heart speeding up as I get wrapped up in that story.

The author of The Art of Thinking ClearlyRolf Dobelli, wrote last year about his four-years-plus without news. As of that piece, it was still working for him.

Dobelli lists in The Guardian a bunch of reasons news is bad for us:

  • [It] misleads. An excerpt: “We are not rational enough to be exposed to the press. Watching an airplane crash on television is going to change your attitude toward that risk, regardless of its real probability.”
  • …is irrelevant. It’s unlikely to help us make better decisions, for example.
  • …has no explanatory power.Will accumulating facts help you understand the world? Sadly, no.”
  • …is toxic to your body.It constantly triggers the limbic system. Panicky stories spur the release of cascades of glucocorticoid (cortisol). This deregulates your immune system and inhibits the release of growth hormones. In other words, your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress. High glucocorticoid levels cause impaired digestion, lack of growth (cell, hair, bone), nervousness and susceptibility to infections. The other potential side-effects include fear, aggression, tunnel-vision and desensitisation.”
  • …increases cognitive errors. He cites “confirmation bias” and “story bias” as two examples.
  • …inhibits thinking. It leads to shallow thinking, poor memory, disrupted concentration, weakened comprehension.
  • …works like a drug.The more news we consume, the more we exercise the neural circuits devoted to skimming and multitasking while ignoring those used for reading deeply and thinking with profound focus. Most news consumers – even if they used to be avid book readers – have lost the ability to absorb lengthy articles or books.”
  • …wastes time. He estimates at least a half day per week.
  • …makes us passive.News stories are overwhelmingly about things you cannot influence. The daily repetition of news about things we can’t act upon makes us passive. It grinds us down until we adopt a worldview that is pessimistic, desensitised, sarcastic and fatalistic. The scientific term is ‘learned helplessness’. It’s a bit of a stretch, but I would not be surprised if news consumption, at least partially contributes to the widespread disease of depression.”
  • …kills creativity.If you want to come up with old solutions, read news. If you are looking for new solutions, don’t.”

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