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The conflict in Israel and Gaza has dominated the news cycle over the past week. Turn on the TV or access any social media platform and you will be confronted with a barrage of horrific headlines.
While it’s important to stay informed, consuming too many graphic images and videos can negatively affect your mental health.
Media exposure to mass violence can fuel a “cycle” in which viewers become highly distressed by the news and this causes them to consume even more news, according to a recent study.
“Nothing good” happens to your brain when you see violent images, says Iliyan Ivanov, professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
For adults who have experienced trauma or who have mood disorders, the effects can be triggering.
“People with some level of anxiety may have some apprehension about what might happen next because the situation is so fluid and uncertain,” he told CNBC Make It. “There’s always a sense of, ‘What else might be coming next? ‘Something terrible is going to happen.'”
There are ways, however, to consume news and still take care of your mental health.
Read carefully, says Alison Holman, professor of psychological sciences at the University of California, Irvine. Holman researches trauma and media exposure.
“Identify news sources that are trustworthy and trustworthy,” says Holman. “In other words, they provide real news. What I recommend is that you choose the two, maybe three main features.”
You don’t need to consume hours and hours of coverage to be informed. “Take time out of your day and say, ‘I’m going to spend 15 to 20 minutes reading about what’s going on so I know what’s going on,’” she says. “And then do it again at night.”
It’s not about consuming less news, she adds. It’s about not consuming excessively. “It’s important that people don’t put their heads in the sand.”
Identify news sources that are trustworthy and trustworthy. In other words, they provide real news
professor of psychological sciences at the University of California, Irvine
“Graphic images will affect us much more [than reading articles],” says Ivanov, because “80% of the information the brain gets comes from visual cues.”
Platforms like YouTube, he says, where there is an endless stream of videos, are less than ideal.
“A lot of bad things happen,” he says. “Do I need to see thousands of people dying? Of course not. There is no need to see everything in detail to understand how terrible it is.”
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Reading articles, even if they have graphic details, is a better idea, he says.
And just because you believe a source is trustworthy, says Holman, doesn’t mean you need to engage with everything they publish.
“Reading a story instead of watching multiple videos is important,” she says. “The New York Times just published a bunch of pretty explicit videos on their website and I was sitting there hoping not too many people were consuming them.”
Each person’s needs and capabilities are different. Often times, your body will tell you when it’s time to get out and do something else, says Holman.
“Are you starting to feel tension in your neck or shoulders?” she says. “Is your breathing becoming more shallow? You don’t want to get carried away by barely breathing.
“Pay attention to the signals of what your body is telling you as you engage with the news. You can identify what is triggering a strong reaction.”
Make sure to fill the rest of your day with activities that bring you joy or relaxation.
“Find something else to do,” says Holman. “Find some guilty pleasure. Anything that helps you process what you’re learning. Just don’t allow yourself to become isolated and get sucked into the news alone.”
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