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Disaster Fatigue: Too much bad news negatively impacts our health

Turn on the TV these days and it seems like you’re inundated with nothing but bad news. When we’re constantly “plugged in,” we have access to breaking news stories 24/7, and now research shows that all the negative news coverage is negatively affecting our health.

Is there so much disaster coverage simply because we are more connected, globally, than ever before, or are there more disasters happening these days than in the past?

The answer is both. The United Nations disaster-monitoring system found that disasters around the world have more than quadrupled to around 400 per year.

As Alexandra Pattillo, a CNN journalist who recently discussed how news impacts health, put it:

The world has always been stressful, but experiencing acute events occurring thousands of miles away is a new and challenging phenomenon. On any given day, it feels like the world is falling apart.”

This constant exposure to current events puts a strain on our mental health and activates our brain’s “fight or flight response.”

When stressed, the brain releases cortisol and adrenaline to help cope and our automatic fight or flight response is kicked into gear. After the stressor has passed, our body goes into recovery mode, but this is where the 24/7 coverage is causing a problem.

“Every time we experience or hear about a traumatic event, we go into stress mode,” Susanne Babbel, a psychotherapist specializing in trauma recovery told CNN. “Over time, when we experience this process again and again, our adrenal glands can become fatigued. Adrenal fatigue can lead to being tired in the morning, lack of restful sleep, anxiety and depression, as well as a multitude of other symptoms.”

Too much stress can cause anxiety, headaches, and hinder quality sleep. Reading up on the latest disaster or catastrophe can also lead to “disaster fatigue”, where people become less concerned with every new crisis that comes to light.

“Disaster fatigue occurs when prolonged exposure to news coverage of disasters causes potential donors or volunteers to lose motivation to address the problem,” writes Pattillo.

Mary McNaughton-Cassill, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at San Antonio told the New York Times that she called Disaster Fatigue, “the bad-news blues”.

How do we combat both disaster fatigue and the impacts of too much crisis coverage? Susanne Babbel told CNN that limiting exposure was a good place to start. You could try and set limits on how much news you consume every day and see if it makes a difference in stress levels.

It’s also important to manage stress and try relaxation techniques like yoga and engaging in self-care to help cope and reduce whatever is stressing your physical and mental health.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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