Dealing with news fatigue

In March 2020, a week before being sent home, my chemistry class was anxiously discussing the pandemic. After the conversation ended, I watched a classmate in the row in front of me refresh the CNN COVID-19 updates every five minutes. I found myself doing the same in the first few weeks of quarantine. I obsessively checked the news and kept myself up at night, scrolling through pictures of overloaded hospitals in Italy and reading the world’s reaction to this new crisis. 

At first, I checked the number of cases every day, but as the months passed, I began to check less and less. I also subscribed to the New York Times daily briefing. Every morning before I even wake up, I receive an email summarizing the day’s most significant news stories. At first, I read through each email, feeling obligated to be an informed world citizen. But to be frank, I haven’t read through one of those emails in weeks, and it’s been a while since I last read a full-length article, putting to waste my New York Times and Washington Post subscriptions. 

I recognize the importance of reading and watching the news, but lately I’ve been struggling to do more than look at my Apple news notifications. News of natural disasters, racial violence, and other tragedies leave me feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. At first, I felt like I was overdramatic and selfish for feeling this way about my basic responsibility to be cognizant of events that were having a real impact on other people’s lives. But now, I realize I’m not alone in feeling news fatigue. Pew Research conducted a study on the issue in 2018, revealing that about 66 percent of Americans felt overwhelmed by the amount of news there was that year. It is more convenient than ever to read or watch the news, and there seems to be a constant stream of information to take in. The news of the past year has been especially overwhelming. Australian wildfires, economic instability, social turmoil, hurricane after hurricane: every day felt like the world was ending. 

News fatigue goes hand in hand with crisis fatigue. In fact, the two drive each other forward. Crisis and horror sells; it’s why true crime has a cult following and the most mind-twisting movies break the box office. In the New York Times, Christopher Mele wrote, “As consumers become satiated, the news media responds by increasing the ‘emotionality’ of its coverage.” People become desensitized to the news’s emotionality, which drives news outlets to put out even more dramatic content, and the cycle continues.

Many are advocating for complete abandonment of the news. One example was in an article I read in the Guardian about a man who has sworn off the news for four years and counting. I disagree with this mindset though. I think everyone should stay up to date with current events, whether that be through watching the nightly news, reading a newspaper, or even social media. It is also important to ensure the news you see is reliable through fact-checking and using trustworthy sources. Someone who stays up to date with the news is more informed and can better discuss issues relevant to the world that they live in. Especially with crises like the coronavirus pandemic, being more informed about ever-changing safety protocols and lockdowns helps to ensure safety for not only individuals but the community.

As with most issues, there is not a clear solution for how to stay informed while also taking care of your mental well-being. News outlets have recognized news fatigue, and many have started short briefings that make staying informed quick and convenient. News and entertainment companies have begun putting out segments dedicated to good news to give audiences a break from the cycle of tragedy, such as John Krasinski’s YouTube show “SomeGoodNews.” Finding this balance between staying informed and taking care of your mental health looks different for everyone, and if you’re feeling fatigued from the news, remember it is all right to take a step back for as long as you need to.