The anchorwoman is unsmiling, even somber,
for her biggest stories are about death,
and even when she has a feature
on a twelve-year-old college student
or a gorilla who understands sign language,
there is something tentative about her relief:
she knows that the Great Antagonist
will strike again, and soon…
I’m going on a diet. Not a reduction in food intake, but a much less obvious pattern of an unhealthy lifestyle. I’ll confess here: I am a news junkie. Every evening at 5:30 p.m., I have a date with Brian Williams and the NBC nightly news. I’ve even been known to “compare” newscasts between NBC, CBS and ABC, which involves considerable repetition, not only of world events, but of the video segments that are so vivid, the images linger in my mind for hours afterward.
It wasn’t any kind of sudden alarm that forced my decision, rather, a benign dinner conversation with my husband, who has a “habit” of his own: listening to BBC podcasts while he walks the dog each evening. I’m used to his coverage of the latest research read or heard, and while I find it interesting, what he reports rarely forces me to change my habits. Friday night was different. He began summarizing another recent podcast, one on the impact of news reports on health. “I thought of you,” he said. I sat a little straighter in my chair; just a short time before, I’d signed off with Diane Sawyer, third in the news lineup between 5:30 and 7 p.m.
According to the British Psychological Society, constant access to the relentless media reports of war, violence, and horrendous tragedy, has negative effects on our physical and mental health. Ouch! They reported a study where people were shown footage of four traumatic events and after viewing, nearly 20% of the 89 participants reported symptoms related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Frequency of exposure–the number of times they viewed the media events–was a factor in participants’ reactions. What’s more, none of these participants had experienced trauma in their personal lives. “Acts of violence erode our sense of security and create intense feelings of anger, fear and helplessness,” the researchers said. “Watching these events and feeling the anguish of those who are directly experiencing them can impact on a certain percentage of individuals causing longer lasting effects.”
The weatherman smiles a lot,
but he is making the best of a bad thing,
for the weather is necessary…
“Stress can be transmitted through TV screen,” The Daily Telegraph‘s website reported earlier this year, showing an image of an individual watching a segment of the television series, “Breaking Bad.” But the study they were citing involved real people, not fictional characters.
In an experimental study, researchers measured people’s stress response to watching either a loved one, or a stranger of the opposite sex, in a stressful situation. Around one in four “observers” (26%) experienced heightened stress levels – measured by using salivary cortisol levels – when watching the “targets.” “Whenever we’re faced with stress, our cortisol levels rise,” said Brandon Mentore, health coach, quoted in a recent Huffington Post article. “Watching a scary or emotionally draining movie raises cortisol.”
We know that cortisol serves the function of our “fight or flight” readiness in response to stressful events, but when the body doesn’t have the chance to return to normal, we begin to suffer from chronic stress, and the impact on our health isn’t good. And my habit of nightly and extended news viewing doesn’t come without costs.
Chronic stress and worry go hand in hand. Worry is that state of feeling concerned or uneasy about some situation in our lives. When it gets the better of us, our bodies and minds go into high gear. We leap beyond what is to what might happen, and as our worry expands, so do our anxieties. I don’t know about you, but my anxiety is heightened with all the news reports of terrorism threats, epidemics, and violence in our schools and on the streets. By the time I turn the television off, I feel agitated, even frightened, and more than once, my anger is triggered when I hear the unending reports of the inability of our government to consider and work for the constituents who put them in office. Even Jon Stewart’s Daily Show has become a source of agitation! I doubt—no, I know—the steady diet of news reports is not good for my health.
Only the sportscaster is happy, for sports news
is good news: money always changes hands,
and if someone has lost that day, someone else has won…
Maybe you’re not a news junkie like me, but chances are you have a habit that doesn’t do much good for your health or stress levels. What is it? As you write this week, consider what triggers that raise your stress levels. What can you do to change or rid yourself of those triggers? What helps you lessen the stress in your life? How do you you manage the times when stress and worry threatens to consume you?
It’s Day Two of my self-imposed diet. Last night I took my dog for a walk during the news hour. This evening, I’ll be in a downtown movie theatre with my husband. Tomorrow? Well, I’ll get creative and keep the remote control out of sight between 5:30 and 7 p.m. I already feel better just thinking about it.
…but you can make a ball out of anything,
and then all you need is a line to get it across
or a hoop to put it through.
The sportscaster knows how the world will end:
not with a whimper, not with a bang,
but with a cheer.
(From “The Late News,” By David Kirby, in The Writers’ Almanac, 12/04/2003)