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Media Saturation Overload

Monday, November 21st, 2022


by Douglas L. Anderson, PsyD


There was a time when news basically covered, well, news.  And it came in the form of large sheets of paper (as it still does) filled with stories of the previous 24 hours or several days.  

But what is determined to be news or newsworthy has changed.  If the story doesn’t generate fear or anger it tends to stay on the sidelines.  This is particularly true on social media where we have seen a proliferation of news sources that provide news “as it happens.”  Research indicates that more than half of U.S. adults get their news through social media “often” or “sometimes.”  

Psychological research indicates that the highlighting of negative or dramatic news on social media impacts our psychological well-being.  We actually suffer, whether we are aware of it or not, from what has been described as “media saturation overload.”  Other descriptions include “doom-scrolling,” “headline anxiety,” and “headline stress disorder.”

I know.  Psychology has a way of making everything a bit pathological.  But this is one of those times where the evidence clearly indicates the presence of increased anxiety in many people due to the overconsumption of negative news.  The Monitor on Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association, talks about this in its most recent publication.

They note that people who are feeling overwhelmed by the news may experience intrusive thoughts (unhelpful thoughts that simply come to mind in the midst of other activities) about news articles or current events, may experience persistent anger, resentment, or anxiety generated by reading news articles, may engage in increased alcohol consumption to self-medicate their stress, and may experience a diminished level of interest in activities outside the news.  

If some or all of that description fits you, then consider taking some action to reduce your news media stress level.  Here are some ideas for you to consider.

  • Turn off smartphone news notifications.  Don’t allow the news to dictate where you put your attention.
  • Set a boundary around meal times.  A “no-screens” policy during meal times, including when you go out to eat, has great benefits.
  • Once you have read or viewed a story, don’t keep revisiting that story.  Move on to something else.  This is particularly important when the story is dramatic and sets your emotional world into motion.  
  • Limit your intake of news.  Watching three straight hours of CNN, FOX, or NewsNation will do little more than jack up your emotional responses, and that just isn’t helpful to your mental health.

Your sense of despair and outrage from overexposure to news feeds intent on the dramatic and on ratcheting up the ire and fear of readers will calm down if you limit your intake.  If you are not convinced, I encourage you to run an experiment.  First, take three days off from watching or reading any news stories (that won’t be easy for some of our readers).  Then spend no more than 30 minutes a day reading and watching news for the next four days.  I am willing to bet that at the end of the week you will feel less anxious, more hopeful, less angry, and more stable.  

If news overload has you trapped in anxiety, anger, and fear, consider reaching out for help.  We have competent and caring therapists in all four of our locations - River Counseling Services in Platte, Sioux Falls Psychological Services, and Stronghold Counseling Services in Sioux Falls and in Yankton - who will meet you where you are, offering hope. That is our mission. You may schedule an appointment at the Platte office at 605-337-3444 or meet with one of our Sioux Falls or Yankton based therapists from your computer, smartphone, or in person at any of our clinics. To schedule an appointment, please call 605-334-2696.