Obsessively Checking the News Can Increase Stress, Anxiety, and Physical Illness

Addiction to checking the news can worsen mental and physical illness, and in many cases may require individuals to reduce, or even stop, consuming any news.

Obsessively checking the news can lead to more stress, anxiety, and worse physical health, according to a new study published in Health Communication.

“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,” said Bryan McLaughlin, associate professor of advertising at the College of Media and Communication at Texas Tech University, in a press release.

In recent years, traumatic news such as the COVID-19 pandemic, gun violence, and the Russian invasion have inundated the news cycle. These ever-increasing global events have led researchers to consider 24-hour news cycles to be overwhelming and bad for mental and physical health for certain individuals.

McLaughlin described problematic news addiction as “a vicious cycle” that can result in individuals, “obsessing over the news and checking for updates around the clock to alleviate their emotional distress.”

The researchers determined the worst of these cases to be severely problematic, in which someone is so invested in the news that nothing else occupies their thoughts, they spend less time with family, concentration worsens, and they experience troubled sleep.

Surveying 1100 US adults, McLaughlin and team analyzed the obsession of checking the news, also called news addiction, and how it impacts feelings of mental and physical wellbeing.

Respondents were asked a series that they would respond to with an agree scale. Questions included statements such as:

  • “I become so absorbed in the news that I forget the world around me.”
  • “My mind is frequently occupied with thoughts about the news.”
  • “I find it difficult to stop reading or watching the news.”
  • “I often do not pay attention at school or work because I am reading or watching the news.”

The respondents were also asked questions about frequency of stress and anxiety, or frequency of physical illness, such as fatigue or gastrointestinal issues. The results suggest that participants with problematic news addiction are more likely to experience mental and physical ailments, despite demographics, personality, or overall news use.

Accordingly, more than 150 people showed signs of severely problematic news consumption. Of these individuals, 61% experienced “quite a bit” or “very much” physical ailments. And 73.6% of severely problematic consumers experienced “quite a bit” or “very much” mental illness.

McLaughlin added that “it is important [consumers] have a healthier relationship with the news,” which can improve through media literacy campaigns or dramatically reducing news consumption that triggers negative mental and physical feelings.

The study was limited because data were only collected during a single timeframe, therefore an exact relationship can’t be established.

The team further suggests that there should be more discussion about the ill effects of the news industry on mental health. McLaughlin concluded that “the results of our study emphasize that the commercial pressures that news media face are not just harmful to the goal of maintaining a healthy democracy, they also may be harmful to individuals’ health.”

Reference

Taylor & Francis Group. News addiction linked to not only poor mental wellbeing but physical health too, new study shows. EurekAlert! August 24, 2022. Accessed on August 24, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/962341