How to Keep the News from Causing Stress and Anxiety
Watching the news can be depressing for anyone, but according to some studies, it may be even worse for women.
Most of us want to know what’s going on, and we turn to various news outlets to find out. Yet after reading or hearing about terrorist attacks, nuclear weapons tests, natural disasters, crime, and other upsetting events, we tend to feel worse than we did before we started.
The American Psychological Association (APA) released their annual Stress in America survey in November 2017, which showed that adults are “conflicted” between their desire to stay informed about the news and their view of that news and the news media as being a source of stress. Nearly all of the respondents—95 percent—stated they follow the news regularly, but over half (56 percent) said it caused them stress.
“With 24-hour news networks and conversations with friends, family, and other connections on social media, it’s hard to avoid the constant stream of stress around issues of national concern,” said APA’s chief executive officer, Arthur Evans Jr., Ph.D. He added that the effects could have an impact on health and that we all need to be more “thoughtful about how often and what type of media we consume.”
While managing how we stay informed is an issue both men and women need to address, research shows that women may need to be even more vigilant about it. Not only are women more likely to suffer from severe stress and anxiety than men, they are also more likely to be negatively affected by tragic news.
Women More Vulnerable to All Kinds of Stress
Look up any kind of stress, and you find that women are more likely to suffer from it. Holiday stress? You may just be recovering. According to an APA survey, it hits women harder and is more likely to put women’s health at risk. Planning for holiday gatherings, shopping for gifts, cooking, and all the other holiday activities are more likely to stress women out, and to increase their risk of turning to food or alcohol to compensate.
Work stress? It hits everyone from time to time, but according to a 2016 study, women suffer higher levels of work-related stress, anxiety, and depression than men. Official figures show women aged 25 to 54 are more stressed than their male colleagues, with workplace sexism and family responsibilities believed to be contributing factors.
Modern-life stress? Again, women are taking a hit. Research shows that women are twice as likely to suffer as men. Scientists think that because most women have to juggle work, family, children, and home care, they are more likely to suffer from mental burnout.
Bad news stress? We’re going to hit on that below. Meanwhile, it’s important to realize that women are twice as likely to suffer major depression and three times more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders. Science hasn’t uncovered all the reasons why yet, but they believe that hormonal and genetic differences may be involved.
Women More Affected by Bad News Than Men
Imagine you sit down with your significant other to watch the news. After 30 minutes, you’re stressed out, worried, and anxious. Your husband turns to the ball game, happy as a clam.
Why would this be?
Scientists aren’t sure, but they have some ideas—and for once, they don’t include hormones! In one study, they randomly assigned 30 women and 30 men, aged 18 to 35, to read either 24 experts of “neutral” news‑such as the opening of a new park or the premiere of a film—or 24 excerpts of negative news—such as accidents and murders.
They then exposed all of the participants to a stress test, giving them memory and intellect tasks to complete. Before, after, and throughout the study, they took saliva samples to measure levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. The more cortisol in your system, the higher your stress level.
The researchers then did one more thing—they called the participants the next day and talked to them about the news stories they’d read the day before.
Results showed that the women who read the negative stories became more vulnerable to experiencing stress during the stress test. They had higher cortisol levels after doing the stressful tasks then the women who read the neutral news stories. The researchers found no difference in the men’s reactions.
Even more intriguing was the finding that when the researchers called the next day about the news stories, the women who read the negative news remembered more about the stories than those who read the neutral news. Again, no difference was seen in the male participants.
So not only are we more affected by the negative news, we’re also more likely to remember it, which could mean that it goes on affecting us long after we finish reading (or listening).
Why the difference? Researchers don’t know, but they think maybe it has to do with evolution—women have traditionally been the caregivers over the centuries, and may be more prone to worrying about things that could affect their families. Women often tend to be more empathetic, according to lead author Marie-France Marin. “It could be that they carry the [emotional] load longer than men,” she said, “which could also influence their memory.”
7 Ways to Reduce News-Related Stress
The results of this and other studies are even more concerning in today’s world, where we’re exposed to such stories more than ever before. We’re not just watching the evening news, but reading news on the Internet, hearing about it on our social media channels, and consuming it through our smartphones and tablets.
“Our brains are constantly detecting stressors,” Marin said, “and more and more stress hormones get back to the brain, which can affect attention, mood, and cognition.”
Other studies have come to the same conclusion—women feel the pressure of stress more than men, and they’re also more likely to ruminate or “dwell” on those negative feelings. In a 2008 study, researchers found that women internalize stress and experience greater levels of sadness and anxiety because of it.
That means that wherever possible, we have to a) reduce the stress in our lives, and b) learn to deal with it more constructively. Below are seven tips to help you do that:
- Limit your exposure to the news: This is an easy one. Why let the news stress you out when you don’t have to? You can stay informed without saturating yourself. Limit your news-watching to once a day or less, and limit your consumption of social media to only 30 minutes a day or less if possible.
- Focus only on what you can change: If something you’ve seen is bothering you, ask yourself one question: “Can I do anything about it?” Maybe you can make a donation, or spread the word in a positive way. If you can’t do anything to change the situation, however, do your best to let it go. Write it down and throw the piece of paper away. Journal about your feelings and then close the notebook. Go for a walk and focus on the positive things in your life.
- Practice stress relief every day: Do you engage in a daily stress-relieving activity? This could include meditation, exercise, therapy, yoga, a dance class, or whatever works for you. The important thing is that you’re taking at least 30 minutes a day to do something that helps you de-stress.
- Watch what you’re thinking about: If you’re still thinking about that tragic news story the day after you watched it, stop yourself. Change that thought to something positive. Don’t allow yourself to ruminate over negative things. Your thoughts determine your mood, so stop the negative ones whenever you notice them, and replace them with positive ones. Listing what you’re grateful for is a good way to turn your thinking around.
- Turn your gadgets off at least an hour before bed: Whatever you do, don’t take your smartphones and tablets and computers to bed with you. Leave them in another room, and shut them down at least an hour before bedtime. Give yourself a chance to shed the day and quiet your mind so you can get a good night’s sleep.
- Remember why so much of the news is negative: Think about most of the news you see—it’s usually negative, right? Media outlets know that negative news gets our attention. Meanwhile, all the good stories are going unreported. Have you noticed that on a slow news day, the media will go clear around the world to find any story of an accident or tragedy to report? And of course, in most cases, you can do nothing about those stories. Keep your perspective when watching or reading.
- Get active in your community: If the stories you’re hearing are bothering you, get active. One of the best antidotes to stress is to do something, move your body, and get involved. Find ways that you can positively affect the people around you, and you’ll enjoy a good amount of positive emotions to counter those negative ones.
“APA Stress in America Survey: US at ‘Lowest Point We Can Remember;’ Future of Nation Most Commonly Reported Source of Stress,” American Psychological Association, November 1, 2017, http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/11/lowest-point.aspx.
“APA Survey Shows Holiday Stress Putting Women’s Health at Risk,” American Psychological Association, December 12, 2006, http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2006/12/women-stress.aspx.
David Batty, “Women suffer much more work stress than men, says psychiatrist,” The Guardian, December 30, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/dec/30/women-suffer-much-more-work-stress-than-men-says-psychiatrist.
Ben Spencer, “Modern life is leaving women twice as likely to be stressed as men as they juggle work, family and children,” Daily Mail, June 5, 2016, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3626688/Modern-life-leaving-women-twice-likely-stressed-men-juggle-work-family-children.html.
Paul J. Rosch, “Why Do Women Suffer More from Depression and Stress?” Stress.org, https://www.stress.org/why-do-women-suffer-more-from-depression-and-stress/.
Marie-France Marin, et al., “There is No News Like Bad News: Women are More Remembering and Stress Reactive after Reading Real Negative News than Men,” PLoS One, October 10, 2012, http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0047189.
Alexandra Sifferlin, “Why Does Bad News Stress Women Out More Than Men?” Healthland.time.com, October 11, 2012, http://healthland.time.com/2012/10/11/bad-news-more-stressful-for-women-than-men/.
Tara M. Chaplin, et al., “Gender Differences in Response to Emotional Stress: An Assessment Across Subjective, Behavioral, and Physiological Domains and Relations to Alcohol Craving,” Alcohol Clin Exp Res., July 2008; 32(7):1242-1250, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2575018/.