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Published On: Wed, Apr 4th, 2018

Don’t Let the News Get You Down

At times, it can feel as if all we hear is bad news. However, this isn’t the case. While we’re, of course, bombarded with world issues, crime, poverty and complete atrocities, there is a lot of good in the world – it’s just we’re not so interested in reading about it. For those of us looking for a breath of fresh air, to see the glass half full rather than empty, you need to learn how to turn the pessimistic and depressing into something optimistic.

Image/Ada County Sheriff’s Department

Car wreck psychology

Without wishing to play down the seriousness of major events, there are a couple of factors that you need to be aware of when it comes to the perception that things are getting worse around the world. First of all, there is the car wreck psychology at work. Most people would avoid having an accident and feel great sympathy for anyone who is involved in one. However, it is a universal human instinct to slow down and look at a car wreck if you encounter one. This compulsion is so strong that rubberneckers end up causing accidents themselves as they crawl past the scene of an accident trying to see what has happened, usually resulting in traffic jams even though the accident has been cleared.

The same thing happens at crime scenes, people flock to the police cordon and try to get a glimpse of what’s going on. The reasons behind this are rooted in our primitive survival instincts; the need to know about anything that could be a threat or have an effect on us personally, the advantage of being aware of everything that is going on around us so we are prepared for any eventuality. This was a vital skill for early man, and despite our rapid advance into civilization these base urges remain. Therefore, when it comes to the news, the media knows that it’s the disasters and crises that will get the most attention, and so they focus on these aspects.

Woodcut for “Die Bibel in Bildern”, 1860. by
Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

There but for the grace of God

Another powerful psychological influence is the subconscious need within us to know there are people worse off than ourselves. This may sound harsh and demeaning, but it can be life-affirming and make you more appreciative of what you have, however little that may be.

There has been a lot of research done into the reasons people love horror movies and books so much. When fans are asked to explain why they are drawn to this genre, they often find it difficult to explain where the appeal lies. It seems counter-intuitive for people to seek out that which scares and horrifies them, and yet they do, in vast numbers. Part of it can be put down to the thrill of the adrenaline rush that a good scare provokes. This is a “safe” experience because there is no real threat, so your body responds by dumping adrenaline and cortisol into your bloodstream, preparing your fight or flight mechanisms even though your brain knows there is no actual danger. You enjoy the excitement without putting yourself in harm’s way.

However, another major factor is that seeing others who are experiencing worse hardships than ourselves can be comforting. These emotions are all operating on a subconscious level, so while you probably aren’t thinking you’ll cheer yourself up by watching something terrible on the news, subconsciously you are benefiting from the positive reinforcement of observing that your own life is so much rosier than many others.

Is the world really that bad?

It’s a common perception that things continually worsen as time passes, that wars, famine and disasters become more common and that the world just gets worse and worse. This is something of a misconception, however, as throughout every stage of history there have been catastrophes and atrocities.

The interconnectedness of the modern world reinforces this misconception by assailing us from every angle at and at all times of the day and night, and we know instantly about every problem in every part of the world. Historically we wouldn’t have been aware of what was happening in other places to this extent, and thus would have been shielded from much of what was taking place.

Furthermore, although there are horrendous things going on, there’s no evidence that there is statistically more violence and poverty than in the past. Things shift and change, one country comes out of poverty while another slides into civil war; one deadly disease is cured, and then a new one develops, economies grow and shrink, but overall there is a rudimentary balance. The early Eighties were a time when nuclear annihilation seemed like a very real and imminent prospect, and children had to go through drills at school so they knew what to do when the bomb fell. This is a part of history now, superseded by terrorism and climate change, but at the time it was just as scary and people felt then that the end of days must be coming.

Why bad news is important

The very fact that bad news evokes a response in people is what makes it so important. Unless you know about disasters around the world, you won’t be able to act in whatever way you choose to alleviate the sufferings of others. The coverage of Hurricane Katrina inspired millions of people to donate money and supplies, and volunteer to help those affected to survive and rebuild their lives. Knowing about people who need help and causes that need support is essential for enabling change to take place. Without the coverage of issues, then people wouldn’t be able to prepare themselves with certain problems. Bad news is a call to action, a motivation to help others less fortunate than yourself, and from this can come great forces for good.

photo/ Pete Linforth

Climate change is a massive and ongoing news story, something that could affect the whole human race unless something is done about it. Without this news coverage, you would be carrying on with your environmentally damaging lifestyle with no idea of the harm you could be causing. Because of the media coverage and resultant consumer pressure, businesses are developing green technologies and ways of reducing the impact of human activity on the planet. Because you are aware of climate change science and have seen how it can affect life in the future, you can choose to drive an electric car or install renewable energy systems to power your home. Even if you choose not to believe the science behind climate change, the changes forced by media and public pressure are still to your advantage, meaning you can save on energy spending by going solar. If everyone were living in blissful ignorance of the world’s problems, nothing would get done and the causes of suffering would go unchecked.

photo/ Gerd Altmann via pixabay

Managing the news

The key to coping with the constant feed of bad news is to take control. You can do this by limiting your exposure to the news, choosing the highest quality sources for your regular updates and avoiding the sensationalist media and the proliferation of misinformation. The Internet has spawned a whole new sector of fake news, stories that spread around the Web and start to take on a life of their own but have no basis in fact. They are usually simple and alluring fabrications that capture the imagination and form a valuable source for gossip. Don’t be fooled into thinking fake news is real – check the veracity of any story you read before believing what it says. You want to be aware of what’s happening, but not be so swamped with it that it brings you down.

Don’t let the news make you feel helpless, take some action in whatever way suits your means and abilities. Support good causes, raise money for charities, do some volunteer work, and get involved in campaigns for change. Your voice is vital in getting the powerful people of the world to take notice and act to resolve the issues of the day. Remember that although social media and instant news makes bad news more prominent, you and everyone else can do good, and there is, in fact, just as much good in the world.

With a little insight into why the news is focused on depressing stories, you should be able to concentrate more on what can be learned and what you can do to have a positive influence, rather than feeling down and helpless. There will always be bad news, and bad news will almost inevitably be at the top of the bill for the media, but that doesn’t mean that the world is in any worse shape than at any other time in history.

If you still find it difficult not to get down when you read the news, there are websites that are devoted to only reporting good news stories, so you might find that subscribing to them will act as a counterbalance to the grimness of the traditional media outlets. Use the news for keeping informed and ready to respond, but don’t let it rule your life.

Author: Carol Trehearn

About the Author

- Outside contributors to the Dispatch are always welcome to offer their unique voices, contradictory opinions or presentation of information not included on the site.

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