Heavy news consumption triggers stress, anxiety, poor physical health


If you have an obsessive urge to constantly check news, you are more likely to suffer from stress, anxiety as well as poor physical health, researchers have warned.

Being exposed to a 24-hour news cycle of continually evolving events can have serious impacts on mental and physical wellbeing, said the study published in the peer-reviewed journal Health Communication.

During the last two years, humanity has lived through a series of worrying global events, from the pandemic to Russia invading Ukraine, large-scale protests, mass shootings and devastating wildfires. For several people, reading bad news can make us feel temporarily powerless and distressed.

“Witnessing these events unfold in the news can bring about a constant state of high alert in some people, kicking their surveillance motives into overdrive and making the world seem like a dark and dangerous place,” said Bryan McLaughlin, associate professor of advertising at Texas Tech University in the US.

For these individuals, a vicious cycle can develop in which, rather than tuning out, they become drawn further in, obsessing over the news and checking for updates around the clock to alleviate their emotional distress.

“But it doesn't help, and the more they check the news, the more it begins to interfere with other aspects of their lives,a McLaughlin added. To study this phenomenon, known colloquially as news addiction, McLaughlin and his colleagues analysed data from an online survey of 1,100 adults.

Respondents were asked about how often they experienced feelings of stress and anxiety, as well as physical ailments such as fatigue, physical pain, poor concentration, and gastrointestinal issues. The results revealed that 16.5 per cent of people surveyed showed signs of 'severely problematic' news consumption.

Such individuals frequently became so immersed and personally invested in news stories that the stories dominated the individual's waking thoughts, disrupted time with family and friends, made it difficult to focus on school or work, and contributed to restlessness and an inability to sleep.

People with higher levels of problematic news consumption were significantly more likely to experience mental and physical ill-being than those with lower levels, even when controlling for demographics, personality traits, and overall news use.

The findings show that there is a need for focused media literacy campaigns to help people develop a healthier relationship with the news. “While we want people to remain engaged in the news, it is important that they have a healthier relationship with the news,” said McLaughlin.

In the case of problematic news consumption, research has shown that individuals may decide to stop, or at least dramatically reduce, their news consumption if they perceive it is having adverse effects on their mental health. In addition, the study also called out the need for a wider discussion about how the news industry may be fuelling the problem.

“The economic pressures facing media outlets, coupled with technological advances and the 24-hour news cycle have encouraged journalists to focus on selecting “newsworthy” stories that will grab news consumers' attention,” McLaughlin noted.