Newly-published research confirms too much news is bad for our health. While there aren’t any FDA-approved treatments for “news addiction,” time spent in nature could help strike a balance between being an informed citizen and existential dread.
Current events in the last handful of years have been…a lot. We don’t even need to take a deep dive into the latest catastrophe to start spiraling with existential dread and anxiety—just skimming headlines and hearing things word-of-mouth can do the trick.
Last month, a study in Health Communications confirmed what a lot of us probably suspected: consuming too much news is bad for our mental and physical wellbeing.
By “consuming too much news,” we don’t mean reading the paper or scrolling through a news app with our morning coffee. We’re talking about compulsively checking the news and being unable to think about anything else, to the point that it’s interfering with other aspects of your life. The study focused on the one out of six respondents whose news habits had reached this degree of severity, but anyone who has gone on a news binge in the last few years knows that the news takes a toll long before it reaches the point of an addiction.
News addictions are different from many other forms of addiction when it comes to treatment, where the goal is often complete abstinence. There are real and important benefits for staying up-to-date on current events—the question is how to get the positives without suffering the side effects.
“Not only does tuning out come at the expense of an individual’s access to important information for their health and safety, it also undermines the existence of an informed citizenry, which has implications for maintaining a healthy democracy,” says Bryan McLaughlin, a professor of advertising at Texas Tech University and one of the study’s co-authors, in a story with Science Daily. “This is why a healthy relationship with news consumption is an ideal situation.”
This study raises as many questions as it answers—importantly, it doesn’t look into whether changing one’s news consumption habits has a measurable effect on that individual’s mental health. This leaves some question marks as to what exactly the right balance looks like, and how some news consumption can fit into a healthy, civically-engaged lifestyle.
But in the meantime, we do know about something that’s measurably awesome for our physical and mental health: playing outside. It’s basically the opposite of staring at a screen, and it can even come with the extra benefit of making it impossible to check Twitter (or wherever you’re getting your news).
Spending time in nature has been found to help alleviate depression, anxiety, and mood disorders, as well as help with stress, focus and concentration, and boosting positive moods. And, according to the science, you don’t have spend hours outside or be in the wilderness to reap these benefits—a few minutes spent in urban nature is good for us, too.
Of course, if you’re really trying to get away from your screens and the never-ending torrent of news, rallying for a full-on trip spent in the fresh air might be able to get you out of cell service in the way that a “hot girl walk” around the neighborhood just doesn’t.
So next time you’re able, head outside for a while—whether you head out for a night or two in the wilderness or just set your phone to “do not disturb” and take a walk through the nearest park. Science says it’s probably a good idea.