Tuning In or Tuning Out The News: Both Can Be BAD for Your Health

Part 1 of 2 Parts

Have you proudly “sworn off the news?” Or, perhaps are you a news junkie that plugs in at every opportunity?

Common sense says that overconsuming news can deal a blow to one’s health, but how could NOT listening to the news be harmful?

Major decisions being made by government and business leaders will affect you and your loved ones for years to come. When you don’t understand these decisions, you are as a leaf sailing through the air, buffeted by the winds of their policy choices.

In the health care field, we professionals rarely speak about our rights as citizens, our civic duty, or the roles we play in our society. Yet, we are at a crucial time in history, maybe more so now than ever, where individuals are being called upon to engage in civil discourse. In other words, it is imperative that we citizens no longer leave the big decisions to politicians, corporations or industry to decide our fate.

A growing sense of urgency is rising, for the role of concerned citizen to speak out and speak up for one’s health and the health of one’s family, one’s community, one’s nation, one’s planet.

Access, affordability, quality and choice of health care are all aspects that affect each one of us, are in the news, and being debated right now.

So, tuning out, and not participating in the decisions being made in our congress, our hospitals or by insurance and pharmaceutical companies, means we have less power and less control over our lives. It even means we could face avoidable life and death struggles if congress passes legislation that knocks us off our insurance carriers, or allows premiums to rise so high we can’t pay them.

Having less power or control over one’s life is NOT good for anyone’s health. Feeling a lack of control is stressful and proven to contribute to deteriorating health. Feeling a measure of control over one’s circumstances has shown to offset the negative effects of less education on longevity of life. 

“I would encourage you: be informed – knowledge is power.” Matt Bevin

If listening to the news has felt overwhelming, yet you are willing to consider how avoidance could lead to bigger problems, here is one thing you can do right now to help yourself tune in.

Close your eyes, take a breath, and listen to your body for a minute or so. See if your body has any sensations going on. Notice any tension or relaxation, any achiness or pain. Allow any sensation to be just as it is, without trying to change it. Give yourself some time to breathe and sense. Breathe and sense. Breath and sense.

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When you have reached a place of allowing, ask yourself the question: when I tune into news, how do I feel? Imagine watching news on tv or the internet, or reading the front page of a paper. Imagine a story that caught your attention. Then notice: what is happening inside your body, are you holding your breath? Are you frowning? Smiling? Is your jaw clenching, or perhaps your stomach feels tied in knots?

One of the main reasons that listening to news is so bothersome, is that mostly news is focused on problems. “News content is predominantly negative because humans tend to be more attentive to negative information,” according to a study by Steve Soroka and Stephen McAdams. News is news because it comes as warnings, threats to our well-being, and we are neurologically predisposed to being on guard for our own safety and survival.

On the other hand, when a Russian news site, City Reporter, posted only good news for a day, readership dropped by two thirds. Psychologists and other analysts have posited theories about why humans are drawn to reading bad news, but the important detail to note is that news media know this and therefore supply us with more negatives, (plus a smattering of positives to keep people from total despair.)

So, if you notice that your body is uncomfortable while absorbing news, consider this:  your response is a natural, human reaction. If you feel like escaping, saying “to heck with this” and shunning the news altogether, keep breathing. Keep noticing. Stay with that feeling and give it some room to just be.

Then, tell yourself that short term discomfort will help you to better prepare for the future. Put a time limit on how much news you expose yourself to, perhaps 15 minutes to start.

If it is health care issues that are drawing your attention that day, then scroll the headlines until you find one that focuses on that subject. Or, you can do a search for “health care news.” As you read the article, stay in touch with your body’s responses. Are you feeling angry, upset, scared? Stay with that feeling and name it. Acknowledge the sensations that go with that emotion. Are your eyes, your jaw, your throat talking to you? What is the threat, the warning that could affect you or your loved ones?

The next step is an action step. Whatever you are feeling, turn it into a response to the information you just took in. Did you just read that your hospital is divesting itself from your insurance company? Or, did you see that politicians want to allow insurance companies to raise rates for pre-existing conditions? Did you hear that a toxic site nearby is not being dealt with?

Determine who to call and express yourself to. Hospitals have patient feedback representatives. Insurance companies have customer service support. Cities have departments of air and water quality. The federal government has the EPA. Politicians have aides that answer the phones. Sometimes you have to leave a recorded message. If you want to start a dialogue, rather than just express yourself, make sure you leave your name and number. You might have to call back. Again. And, again.

Whatever step you take, let your body guide you. If you have a feeling of anger, fear or anxiety, express your emotion to the person who you decide to call. Tell them how you or those you love will personally be impacted. Tell them how much this matters to you. Your voice may be a drop in the bucket, but buckets fill up and spill over when enough people speak up. And, just as water over time carves into rock, so do the voices of people carve out change.

Another way to take action is to join others who have the same concerns as you. There are online forums as well as groups to gather with in person. There are tremendous health benefits to joining a group of like-minded people. Strong social relationships can increase not only your mental and physical health, but add to the years of your life. It’s the sense of trust and support, as well as the feeling of belonging to a group that brings the most benefit. Avoiding early death and disease is a great motivator for coming together with others, and your efforts to improve our health care system get multiplied. Do a search of health advocacy groups in your area to find some options.

I can promise you that women working together – linked, informed and educated – can bring peace and prosperity to this forsaken planet.” Isabel Allende

Showing up to a group of people you have never met can be a little nerve wracking, so bring a friend for moral support if you can. Regardless, most groups will be excited to have new members and will be very welcoming. If they aren’t, check out a different bunch.

Becoming a news consumer can be good for your health, if you tune into your body and channel its messages into action. The alternative is being at the mercy of the people making choices for you, and these days, we can no longer trust those in charge to make the best decisions for us all.

“I know it sounds weird, but my definition of ‘sexy’ has changed as I’ve gotten older. And, being smart and informed makes me feel sexier than any outfit.” Sarah Shahi

Part 2 coming up: Too Much News Can Be Bad For Your Health, Literally! If you have comments or questions, please leave them below.

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About Alicia Swaringen, LMBT

Alicia Swaringen, LMBT, Founder of Bodywisdom Therapy. Since 1995, Alicia has helped hundreds of clients, using Acupressure and Process Oriented Psychology, unravel the messages of their bodies, find relief and valuable insight, and put those messages into practice. www.bodywisdomtherapy.net. alicia@bodywisdomtherapy.net.
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