Fatigued by the News? Experts Suggest How to Adjust Your Media Diet

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A cartoon circulating on social media captures the mood of many viewers and readers trying to cope with the current barrage of breaking news.

The cartoon, by David Sipress, shows a couple walking together, with the woman saying, “My desire to be well-informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane.”

It feels as if we are living in a Superconducting Super Collider of news, with information bombarding us at a head-spinning velocity. The result is a fatigue about the headlines — lately about politics — that has prompted some people to withdraw from the news, or curb their consumption of it.

Christian Livermore, an American writer living in St. Andrews, Scotland, said in an email that since the presidential election, she has been skimming instead of deeply reading the news.

“At a certain point, there’s a misery quotient that results from immersing one’s self in the news, in the almost forensic detail of the suffering, and I have to ask myself, ‘How does this affect my life?’” she wrote.

Experts said they had not seen data to conclude that consumers had changed their habits to protect their mental health, but added that the news ecosystem had changed drastically over the past five years, accelerating the sense of information overload.

Dan Gillmor, a professor of media literacy at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, said the number of news media has increased sharply, while there has been an “incredible rise of the ubiquitousness of social media” and sharing of news on platforms such as Facebook.

“Things really are different,” he said. “There’s just more stuff if we’re online and paying attention. There’s a lot to pay attention to.”

He added that in today’s television news environment, the definition of breaking news “means the latest thing we have to show you.”

Leslie-Jean Thornton, a journalism professor who is a colleague of Mr. Gillmor’s at Arizona State University, said that even faculty members who by necessity were steeped in news needed breaks from it.

“As journalism professors, there’s a need and a desire to stay on top of things — so much so that it becomes somewhat addictive for some of us,” she wrote in an email. “It’s hard to step away, even for a few hours, but yet the constant wash of uncertainties is emotionally draining and physically harmful — teeth damaged from being clenched in anger or frustration, skyrocketing blood pressure, heart palpitations.”

She added, “I joke that we need trauma care, but I’m not really joking at all.”

Graham C. L. Davey, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Sussex in England, said in an email that many people followed the news because they did not want to be caught unaware.

“These are the people with an intolerance of uncertainty, and are probably already anxious individuals, and are exactly the ones for whom negative news has a negative psychological impact on their own personal anxieties and worries,” he said.

As consumers become satiated, the news media responds by increasing the “emotionality” of its coverage, meaning negativity is emphasized to keep customers engaged, he wrote.

Mr. Gillmor has been a proponent of the “slow news movement,” named after the slow food movement, which maintains it is better for consumers’ health to cook and eat more slowly.

“We haven’t been asking anything of the news-producing group, namely journalists, who I would strongly argue should be more involved in managing the insane flow of information and misinformation,” he said. “It would be better if we had an approach that said, ‘Calm down.’”

How then best to cope with the velocity and quantity of news?

Some have found comfort in positive news, said Seán Dagan Wood, editor in chief of Positive News, a website and quarterly print magazine that highlights “quality independent reporting that focuses on progress and possibility.”

In the 12 weeks since the election, visitors to the website have increased by 93 percent, and magazine subscriptions are up by 77 percent compared with the 12 weeks before the election, Mr. Wood said in an email.

For those glued to the news, Curtis W. Reisinger, a clinical psychologist at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y., recommended not reading or watching any just before bedtime because thoughts of how to respond to it can disrupt sleep. Better to watch sports or entertainment rather than the “worry content” of news, he said.

Nir Eyal, who writes a blog about “behavioral design” — the intersection of psychology, technology and business — said he habitually turned to campaign coverage to momentarily distract him from his work and escape from “an uncomfortable reality.”

What he found, however, was that he traded one uncomfortable reality (the demand to get his work done) for another (the addictive quality of watching the news for fear he was missing out on something).

“The solution became the problem,” he said.

In a recent blog post, How to Stay Informed Without Losing Your Mind,” he noted that “online news is never done,” adding that reading it left him “overwhelmed, exhausted and anxious.”

“The internet never says, ‘You’ve had enough, now go away,’” he wrote.

Mr. Eyal has changed some of his habits; he has installed the News Feed Eradicator for Facebook and removed Facebook and Twitter apps from his iPhone, checking them only from his desktop.

He has also taken to reading a daily newspaper because editors select the top stories and spare him from reading “the incomplete, incremental, second-rate stuff often published online.”

“And when I physically turned the last page of the newspaper — such a satisfying moment — I felt as if I’d read enough to be informed for the day,” he said.

If all else fails, and you still feel bouts of news fatigue, you can turn to Twitter for photos of cute animals.