Health can suffer when we overdose on tragic news

"Self-awareness is key, the point at which negative news affects our emotional and physical well-being is different for each individual,"says Willa Decker. (Credit: iStockphoto)

You might live a world away from a tragic event, but really you’re only a click away. The internet and TV constantly stream news about traffic accidents, terrorist attacks, and other troubling events.

How much bad news is too much for our own wellbeing? How do we stay informed without becoming overwhelmed?

“Research has shown that there is a physical connection between what we think and the parts of the body that our brains control,” says Willa Decker, a clinical assistant professor and nurse specialist in psychiatric mental health with the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing. “Intense negative emotions can alter our perspective and contribute to our having headaches, high blood pressure, digestive issues, a weakened immune system, or other health issues.”

Determining a personal threshold for exposure to bad news can be tricky, but it is important, according to Decker.

“Self-awareness is key, the point at which negative news affects our emotional and physical well-being is different for each individual,” Decker adds. “But, if you notice that your heart rate has increased, you’ve become irritable, overly emotional, or if you just feel drained, you might be experiencing the adverse effects of the bad news, and it may be time for you to step away and regroup.”

[Do our news feeds give us rigid views?]

Although we think of watching the news as an adult activity, children can also be bombarded by troubling headlines, images, and stories throughout the course of a normal day.

“Whether children are exposed to tragic news through conversations with their peers, television, social media, or other channels, they are also vulnerable to its potential harmful health effects,” Decker says. “Children may not know how to express what is bothering them, so they may become quite or aggressive for no apparent reason.

“We know that children whose parents are actively involved in their lives have an easier time adjusting through difficult circumstances. So, communicating with our children about what happened, reassuring them about their own wellbeing, and modeling healthy responses can make a tremendous difference.”

Decker says one way to cope is to set limits on news consumption.

“It might be helpful to schedule a reasonable amount of time each day to catch up on the news, and then focus the remainder of your day on living,” says Decker. “Taking care of ourselves by making sure we are getting enough rest, eating well, and exercising is an important part of our overall well-being, and it can go a long way toward mitigating our exposure to so much disheartening news.”

Source: Texas A&M University