How to Combat 'Headline Stress Disorder' - THINKERS Notebook

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How to Combat 'Headline Stress Disorder'

If you've kept even half an eye on the news, the last week has been difficult and tumultuous.

Wait. Scratch that.

If you've kept even half an eye on the news, the last three months have been difficult and tumultuous. 

And if you want to go back further than that and claim difficulty and tumultuousness, you're probably right.

It's just felt like an endless cycle of important and urgent news stories day after day after day ... sometimes hour after hour after hour. This effect is multiplied if you spend any time on social media.

The question for us, as people dedicated to doing our best thinking, is how should we best handle times like these?

How do we consume the news without being consumed by the news?

Let's be realistic: the news is important. A lot of times, it is also urgent.

We know that we should keep up with the news so that we can be informed citizens. So we try our best.

Completely avoiding the news is not, and should not, be an option.

But when we let the news consume us, especially negative news, we not only get distracted from our goals and muddled in our thinking, we also run the risk of becoming anxious to an unhealthy degree.

From Medical News Today:

While news cycle-related anxiety has probably existed for centuries, it became particularly obvious in 2016, a year packed with global events that polarized communities.

When people started reporting tension and anxiety that stemmed from feeling bombarded by alarming news headlines, some therapists came to describe this as its own phenomenon.

For example, therapist Steven Stosny, Ph.D., refers to it as “headline stress disorder” in an opinion piece for The Washington Post. He describes his personal experience with clients in whom the grueling news cycle triggered intense feelings of worry and helplessness, and he reports that this particularly affected female clients.

Stosny’s observations may be spot-on. According to a study from 2012, women are better than men at remembering negative news for longer periods. They also have more persistent physiological reactions to the stress caused by such news, the study’s authors conclude.

“Many feel personally devalued, rejected, unseen, unheard, and unsafe. They report a sense of foreboding and mistrust about the future,” Stosny writes.

So in this week's edition of the THINKERS Roundup, you will find three articles with tips for how to best combat "headline stress disorder."

Hopefully one or more of these tips will help you develop better skills for getting what you need from the news without losing yourself in the process.

I will add one caveat here:

Finding strategies to be a more dispassionate in how you consume news does not mean that you need to be dispassionate in how to respond to it.

I am in no way advocating sitting on the sidelines when you feel moved to do more. (And if you follow me on Twitter, you'll know I recently advocated for exactly the opposite.)

There will rightly be news stories that spur you to action. 

  • Maybe you're spurred to take smart medical precautions.
  • Maybe you're spurred to eat a different diet.
  • Maybe you're spurred to pick up trash while you're walking in the park.
  • Maybe you're spurred to join a cause you believe in.  
  • Maybe you're spurred to support a political candidate.

If you are driven to action by a combination of emotional response and logical thought, then good! 

The problem is when we bounce from story to story with heightened emotions, and eventually, take drastic action based on emotion or check out completely because we're exhausted.

I hope the resources in this week's email help you find a happy medium, so that you feel in control of your news consumption rather than the other way around.

You are a thinker. You have important thinking to do. The news should help inform your thinking, but it shouldn't overwhelm or control it.

Here's a quick Workshop recap, then on to this week's links ...

This Week in the THINKERS Workshop


We announced our next webinar, for Friday, June 26th, and we hope you'll join us live.

Sean and I will be talking to Brian Schultz, the CEO of Studio Movie Grill, about how to think clearly and make good decisions during a crisis. Brian has a lot of recent experience in this area, helping to navigate his company through an expansion during the COVID-19 shutdown and enduring impact.

Click here to RSVP and get the Zoom link.

And don't miss these two recent essays from Sean Jackson:



The THINKERS Workshop costs $499.99 per year (or $49.99 per month) to be a member. If you own a THINKERS Notebook, then you get a special discount. Just reply to this email and let me know you have a notebook, and I'll pass along the discount code.
Now on to this week's links ...

5 strategies to reduce headline anxiety


2. Write down your concerns. 

"Write down your anxious thoughts. When anxiety is seizing your brain, your thoughts race. They go by very fast. And the faster they go, the less realistic they get. 

And then assign a probability. Anxiety is always the worst case scenario. So you write down what you're anxious about, then [you rate them] on a scale of 1 - 5, how likely is that to happen?

Anxiety is about possibility. And anything is possible. We have to live in the world of probability. How likely is it to happen?

Read: News headlines getting you down? Here's how to protect your mental health (CBC)

Stay informed and maintain your own sense of happiness and calm too


You don’t need to cut out all news media in order to stop it getting you down. Really it is all about making the right choices for you.

Suzy Reading has some great advice. “Pick and choose your sources of information and the times at which you check in. Make sure you are balancing out your visual diet with uplifting stories too,” she says.

“I love reading about positive psychology and regularly pick up magazines about health and mindfulness to ensure I am also imbibing positivity, stimulating awe, creativity and curiosity.”

As well as balancing the news you consume with lighter, more stimulating media, choosing to engage with only the news stories which are relevant to you is a simple way to cut down on news and reduce the anxieties around it.

Think about what is relevant to you – does this story affect your life? Are you genuinely interested? Is it something you can change? Try to avoid getting caught up in a cycle of the latest news and instead focus on the news which is most important to you.

Read: How to cope when the news makes you feel stressed and depressed (Calm Moment)

Or you could try a more extreme method ...


Society needs journalism – but in a different way. Investigative journalism is always relevant. We need reporting that polices our institutions and uncovers truth. But important findings don't have to arrive in the form of news. Long journal articles and in-depth books are good, too.

I have now gone without news for four years, so I can see, feel and report the effects of this freedom first-hand: less disruption, less anxiety, deeper thinking, more time, more insights. It's not easy, but it's worth it.
Quote of the week

“Most neuroses and some psychoses can be traced to the unnecessary and unhealthy habit of daily wallowing in the troubles and sins of five billion strangers.”

-- Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land