The Media Overload Detox Diet

General / General : Eleanor Haley

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Let's be honest, turning on the news these days is kind of a bummer. I'm not saying that our generation is, like, the worst ever - but what we have that no one before us has had is a 24-hour news cycle and the ability to be ALWAYS connected. Ugh, just thinking about it gives me a headache.

Media overload from the internet, television, Facebook status updates, Twitter, radio, and the newspaper, is not without its consequences.  We're just often so busy worrying about the event(s) itself or how our kids are handling the information, that we fail to assess how it's affecting us.

This is how it goes: The 24-hour coverage is on at work and it was on at home; the internet is plastered with images; the radio is more of the same. You get your email and the internet to your phone so the media is with you everywhere you go.  

You feel overwhelmed, yet you keep watching and keep reading.  Finally, you decide you need some space from the coverage so you decide to go for a walk but before you're off your block you are sucked into a conversation with neighbors who are firing off questions.  Exposure is everywhere and it feels inescapable.

“What’s the big deal?” you may be thinking, “It is just news coverage and people making conversation”.  If so you are probably one of those lucky people who have found a way to unplug or just isn’t feeling overwhelmed by the information and coverage.  Good for you!  You can stop reading here.  For the rest of you, this constant exposure can have a real impact on your mood when you feel it hanging over us and you find it impossible to escape.

Consequences of Media Overload:

Before we dive into what we can do about this problem, let’s talk real quick about why it is a problem.  What’s wrong with this level of media coverage exposure?  I know, it may seem obvious, but let’s go through the issues just so we’re all on the same page.

1) Secondary trauma.  These images can be extremely graphic and emotional.  We sometimes watch them for hours, which is more than enough time to be impacted, especially if we have a predisposition.  These are often violent images that, especially on the internet, have limited editing and sometimes put us right in the midst of the violence.  Secondary trauma is a very real phenomenon in which we can be removed from an event but still experience trauma from an overload of images, interviews, and other coverages.

2) It brings up our own stuff.  The coverage of these events may bring up similar trauma we have been through.  It may remind us of the death of a parent, spouse, child, or friend.  It may remind us of a stressful situation we have been in – military service, car accidents, etc.  Even when we have not been through a loss, it may get us thinking about the possibility of losing those who are close to us or being victims of violence.

3) They bring up other national traumas.  With each new crisis, we are reminded of the stress and devastation of past crises - Newtown, 9/11, the Challenger, Virginia Tech, Waco, Columbine, and Oklahoma City.  We are often not just processing this individual event, but also revisiting past tragedies.

4) We can’t get a break.  These events can play 24 hours on multiple mediums.  Everyone is talking about it.  It is all over social medial.  It can be tough to get any space from the intensity of the tragedy.   Even when we try to get a break, it is often what everyone around us is talking about.  And the media doesn’t want us to unplug – they are actively working to get us to keep the coverage on.

The above can be especially bad for people who have a history of trauma, anxiety, or depression.  And though I haven’t seen any studies to back it up, I am pretty sure that grieving could be added to that list.  Just because we are removed from the event in distance and time, the media keeps us deeply connected to it.

Managing Media Overload:

So what do you do about it?  It would be easy to say, eh, just take a break.  Turn off the TV, go outside, keep away from online news.   But sometimes that quickly fails when you go outside only to be overwhelmed by neighbors talking about it.  Or the lady working at the post office.  Or the person in the checkout line.  Sometimes you need a plan.

So what can you do?  There are some little ways to get a break that can help if you are the kind of person who needs some help disconnecting.

  1. Get your info in small doses.  Turn on the news for 15 minutes  – set a timer if you need to.  Once your time is up turn the TV and get back to what you were doing.
  2. Set specific times of day to get updates. Once in the morning and once in the evening is usually sufficient.  Do your best to spend the rest of your day focusing on other things and not getting sucked into media coverage.
  3. Stick to your routine.  If you have a daily schedule, try to stick to it.  If you are skipping the gym, getting to work late, or putting off laundry this could be a sign you are becoming fixated.  Stay on track with your schedule.
  4. Decompress.  After spending time watching media coverage it is helpful to have a plan to refresh. When your 15 minutes of media is up, do something you enjoy away from the TV, radio, or computer.
    1. Go or a walk or a run
    2. Read a book (a light book, if possible)
    3. Create! Arts, crafts, photography, scrapbooking – whatever.
    4. Play with your kids (preferably away from all media devices, so you won’t be tempted to turn them on).
    5. Go to the gym (this can be a tricky one if your gym is full of TVs.  If this is the case, consider going to a class at the gym where you won’t be watching TV).
    6. Get a manicure/pedicure (make sure to tell them when they start that you don’t want to talk about the tragedy).
  5. Be self-aware.  Do some self-assessment about how the coverage is affecting you.  Are you feeling especially tense, anxious, depressed, or simply struggling with existential questions like why bad things happen to good people.  If so, consider a more defined plan for self-care.
    1. Talk to your therapist or counselor.
    2. Do an inventory of good things in life – things and places you love,  inspiring things, and people you care about.
    3. If you are feeling physical stress, consider a massage, acupuncture, meditation, or yoga.  (read a little about meditation here).
    4. Do some journaling.
    5. Check out our self-care post for more ideas.
  6. Do something productive.  Look into things you can do to help the victims.  Consider a charity you can make a donation to, send a care package, or organize a small fundraiser to raise money to send to the victims.  There may be a tremendous amount already being done for the victims.  If this is the case, consider helping those in need in your own community.  Create care packages for a homeless shelter, volunteer for habitat for humanity, or seek another charitable organization to support.
  7. Tell others you need a break.  When it is all everyone is talking about, it can be hard to ask other people to stop.  For friends and family you are comfortable with, let them know you are feeling overwhelmed and need a break from discussing it.  For those you don’t feel comfortable saying that to, excuse yourself from conversations when you can.  Trust me, everyone could probably use a break from talking about it, so others may welcome the space if you suggest it.
  8. Consider a full detox.  If you are really in overload, a full break may be what you need.  Think of it as a fast from all those toxins coming through your TV and computer screens.  This is not denial or avoidance, it is simply a strategy to keep things in moderation.  It can also be a way to prove to yourself that you can go for a full day or two with no media and live to talk about it.

Leave us a comment to let us know how the media coverage has impacted you and how you unplug.  We love comments!

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3 Comments on "The Media Overload Detox Diet"

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  1. Sarah  July 28, 2022 at 10:32 pm Reply

    I think there far to much about Social Media these days.Im not that old and my partner passed away April 2nd 2021.

  2. Ruth  June 1, 2020 at 9:26 am Reply

    Wonderful advice. Before my husband died seven months ago, I would have the news on for hours and not even really listening to it. He would ask me to please take a break because it bothered him. I was irritated, but did comply. Now I can barely watch the news between COVID and the riots. I am feeling guilty that I watched so much and now I understand his feelings.

  3. Irving  April 20, 2014 at 10:37 am Reply

    What a great write up! With the explosion of the “information age” so-to-speak, there seems to be an anxiety about missing some event or not being up to date with the latest news story or tragedy! Your list of how to detox media overload is great, some very practical keys. Thanks for a very informative post!

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