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How To Stop Watching The News: A Step-By-Step Guide


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Most of us feel overwhelmed by all the information we get exposed to on a daily basis, be it consciously or subconsciously. The current information overload makes it all the more important to be very selective about the things we actively decide to watch or read. Watching the news, for one, seems to be impacting our mental health rather negatively. But how can we change this habit and stop watching the news?

In order to stop watching the news, you need to first make sure you change your environment. Remove any obvious trigger from your phone, computer, and TV. Find a substitute activity and make a specific plan on how you will replace the news with this new habit tomorrow. Reflect on your experience in order to make sure you improve your habit over time.

In order to gain more insights on why and how to stop watching the news, read the full article – or, if you feel a little “read-lazy”, just watch the following video:

Is it OK to stop watching the news?

We are now more connected than ever. In a blink of an eye, we can know what’s happening on the other side of the globe. But, just because we are lucky enough to have this wealth of information at hand, does it mean that we have an obligation to watch the news?

It is totally OK to stop watching the news. However, depending on your preferences and profession, you may want to stay informed, but other resources, such as weekly newspapers or podcasts, may give you a more qualitative and in-depth perspective on current events. Watching the news can be actually quite repetitive and time-consuming, without necessarily giving you the chance to dive deeper into topics that really matter to you. 

Until I was 18, I, personally, did not care one small bit for the news. In fact, I found the news extremely boring. But when I started studying, I forced myself to become interested in politics, economics, and most topics that the news is made of. Due to my studies, I felt obliged to watch the news regularly.

I’ve also experienced peer pressure regularly on this. You may know that feeling when someone goes “how do you not know about this” as if my spare time should be spent watching every single piece of news I could possibly find.

With time, I’ve learned to set my priorities straight and stay informed about the areas that interest me, selectively. I don’t feel guilty about not watching the news. I’ve decided that I was not going to be mainstream on this one.

However, I do want to get into the habit of reading some carefully selected weekly newspaper again, which would ensure I get the information I desire in high-quality and without depressing images or repetitions I would otherwise get by watching the news.

If you’re interested to know what the pros and cons of reading the newspaper may be, here is our other article on this: Is Reading Newspapers A Good Habit? The 11 Pros and ConsOpens in a new tab.

Why You Should Quit The News

Studies have shown that the news has become more and more prone to negativityOpens in a new tab. over the past few decades. That is most probably correlated to the fact that news which triggers strong emotions often get more watch time. As human beings, we tend to be strongly driven by our fears. It is hence easier to get our attention when appealing to our fears, uncertainties, and doubts (FUD).

Given the bias of the news towards negativity and pessimism, stopping or reducing your consumption of TV news will most probably impact your mental health positively. Studies have shown that negative news will not only make you sadder and more anxious, but they will amplify your own fearsOpens in a new tab., even when the latter are totally unrelated to the news you just watched.

Also, according to Mark MansonOpens in a new tab., watching the news often doesn’t have a real impact on your life – except making you feel miserable. He also points out the negative effects that have been scientifically proven with regards to watching the news, among which:

  • post-traumatic stress disorder can be developed by people who have not been in direct contact with but have repeatedly been watching disturbing or traumatizing news.
  • people tend to give too much importance to certain events, only based on news coverage – no matter whether these events are actually relevant or not.
  • watching the news makes us feel like there is more crime and violence around us than there actually is. It spreads a feeling of distrust and paranoia among people.
  • some news channels actively try to misinform the public in order to support their hidden agendas and propaganda. We’ve covered this topic in our other article as well: Is Reading Newspapers A Good Habit? The 11 Pros and ConsOpens in a new tab..
  • as already mentioned, watching the news has been correlated to higher stress and anxiety levels, not only while we watch them, but also long after we’ve switched off TV.

Why I Decided to Stop Watching The News

As mentioned above, as a kid, I felt like nothing was more boring than watching the news. However, my studies and first job made me feel like there was no way around it – in order to be employable and a valuable member of society, I had to watch the news, daily.
When, a decade later, I decided to quit my job and take a sabbatical, I completely stopped watching the news. That’s because I was recovering from burnout and also busy filling up my sabbatical year with meaningful stuff (at least to me) – such as pursuing my hobbies, traveling the world, and learning languages…
At the end of the sabbatical, however, I started applying for jobs again. In order to prepare for interviews, I started binge-watching the news. I used every break and free time I had to try and catch up with the news, as I had lived “news-free” for almost an entire year.
After a few days, some dark, unprecedented fears started surging. I was afraid a third World War may start soon. I felt slightly depressed. My anxiety and stress levels went through the roof.
Fortunately, I quickly identified the problem. I decided to stop watching the news and turn to weekly newspapers that I trusted as being qualitative sources of information, with no over-dramatization and a solution-oriented mindset. Soon, everything went back to normal and I was happy I was easily able to identify and solve the problem.
I felt like sharing this story as it clearly illustrates what scientists have observed regarding the news.
However, I’d also like to add the following reasons for you to stop watching (or reduce the time spent watching) the news:
  • VISUAL information is very impactful. Think twice before getting exposed to such a density of traumatizing pictures and videos.
  • The information mix is carefully selected in order to maximize the watch time. It is not tailored to your specific needs and wants. There is a lot of positive news out there that you will never get to see because it simply doesn’t appeal to the masses.
  • The daily news is extremely repetitive. It will often take a week or a month to finally hear about something really new or get additional relevant insights. This means that overall you are wasting a lot of time, which would be better spent reading specific articles from a weekly newspaper.

All in all, if you quit watching the news you will free up a tremendous amount of time, energy, and mental space…

Can The News Make You Depressed?

We’ve mentioned already that watching the news can lead to higher levels of anxiety and sadness, while also exacerbating one’s personal fears whether related to the news or not. But can the news even make you depressed?

Apparently, people who suffer from depression can aggravateOpens in a new tab. the situation by watching the news, especially the 24-hour news format. The news’ negativity bias leads to more anxiety, sadness, and fears while making any positive outlook on life seem naive. More generally, studies have shown that people who watch TV for more than 3 hours a day have much higher risks of developing depressionOpens in a new tab..

That’s exactly the feeling I’ve described above and started getting at the end of my sabbatical year when I started binge-watching news for the sake of my job interviews. Every positive thought seems pointless, as the world seems to fall apart around you. No matter which plans you make in your head, you wonder whether you’ll be able to see them come true as the world you know may no longer exist in a few weeks or months.

If you have a tendency for pessimism, depression, or anxiety, it’s probably a good idea to stop watching the news. If you want to stay up-to-date, focus on podcasts, radio stations, or newspapers as it seems like “seeing can be worse than reading or hearingOpens in a new tab.“.

How To Stop Watching The News, Step by Step

How To Stop Watching The News: A Step-By-Step Guide

If you really want to stop watching the news, here are the steps I would take to make sure you can quit successfully:

1. Change your environment

People who successfully stick to good habits in the long-term are actually using very little willpower… do you know why? Because they make sure to change their environment to set them up for success.

What should you change if you want to quit watching the news?

  • Clean up your phone: we spend an awful lot of time on our phones, even without noticing it sometimes. Make sure you turn off all notifications related to the news. If possible, hide or delete the news apps from your phone. Some phones come with a default setup that will show you some news whether you decided it or not. Make sure to deactivate this default function so as not to get pushed unwanted content.
  • Tidy up your computer: some of you may get news notifications on their computers. You should disable them. Also, if you are addicted to news websites and tend to check them every hour or so, make sure to install a site blocker (I used this oneOpens in a new tab.) in order to monitor yourself.
  • Keep your emails safe: Don’t forget to unsubscribe from any newsletters which may trigger you to watch the news.
  • Filter out the wrong social media feed: Unsubscribe or unfollow and YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook feed that repeatedly causes you to watch the news or worry excessively about the current situation.
  • Remove channels from your TV: modern smart TVs will let you remove channels or make them more difficult to access. If you’re addicted to a certain 24-hour news channel, just remove it for a couple of days, and see how it feels. You can always put it back on later if that’s too much.

2. Find a substitute activity

If watching the news feels like an addiction to you, then it might take some time and effort for you to modify your behavior.

First of all, you may want to focus just on changing this one habit in order to make sure it sticks over the long term. If you’re not convinced this is the way to go, I highly recommend my other article on Changing Habits One At A Time: The Complete GuideOpens in a new tab..

When you’re trying to break a bad habitOpens in a new tab., it’s almost always a good idea to find a great substitute for it. It is going to be very hard for you to resist watching the news when faced with a trigger – so you need to have a substitute activity you can do which will bring you a similar satisfaction in order to break this habit.

It may take you some time to figure out which substitute activity is the right one for this purpose. Be ready to face a little trial-and-error phase. And, obviously, try not to substitute this bad habit with another harmful habit (such as smoking for instance). This would defeat the whole purpose.

Making a specific plan on how exactly you plan on replacing your habit the next day will increase your chances of being successful drasticallyOpens in a new tab.. Make sure you think of any tempting situation that may pop up and figure out a plan on how to react exactly.
For instance, craft a statement such as “tomorrow, whenever I feel the urge to check the news on my phone, I will make myself some tea / play a quick game / have a quick chat with a colleague instead.”
Those are just ideas. In fact, it’s important that you think for yourself here: what works for your friends may not work for you. Be playful and you will find the right substitute over time.

3. Reflect and learn from your mistakes

You’ve started to try and break this bad habit of watching the news, but you still experience regular relapses?

It’s time for you to reflect on this habit and make sure you understand why you haven’t managed to break it so far.

As a matter of fact, habit reflection has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to make sure you stick to your new habitsOpens in a new tab. in the long run. Make sure you list all the obstacles and challenges you have faced so far. How will you react if these challenges pop up again? Craft a better plan and try again.

What Can I Do Instead Of Watching The News?

As mentioned above, everyone is different so it’s important that you put in the work and find out what works for you. However, I’m happy to give you some ideas which hopefully will trigger some inspiration on your end:

  • Use the time to write to your friends and family, or give them a quick call.
  • Watch selective videos you like (e.g. documentaries or tutorials on something you’d like to learn).
  • Read a book or short book summaries on BlinkistOpens in a new tab..
  • Take a walk and listen to an audiobook on audibleOpens in a new tab.* instead.
  • Journal about your day or anything you like: here are some gratitude prompts to get you goingOpens in a new tab..
  • Meditate for a few minutes.
  • Practice some sort of breathing techniqueOpens in a new tab. for 10 minutes.
  • Take your dog for a walk outside.
  • Do a short yoga session.
  • Practice photography: grab your phone or camera and go get some nice pictures outside or at your house.
  • Draw some sketches.
  • Read a weekly reputable newspaper or listen to a qualitative podcast. If you want and need to stay up-to-date, those are two preferable options. Take your time to find sources you trust and enjoy.

Remember, whichever activity you choose, it’s important to make a specific plan and see whether this activity really fits into the situation you most likely will encounter.

Final Thoughts

Watching the news has become increasingly harmful to our mental health. In order to better grab our attention, many news channels have a negativity bias which has proven to cause more anxiety, sadness, and fears among the audience.

It is hence generally a good idea to reduce if not stop consuming TV news. In order to do so, you should make sure you do not get notified constantly by news channels on your phone or computer. Also, be sure to make a specific plan on which activity can be a great substitute for watching the news.

If you stop watching the news, you will find that you have more time and energy at hand to spend on doing things that you love and actually improve your mental state.

Sources:

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