How to Fight Media Burnout in the Age of Coronavirus News

The news is a lot. Here's how to stay in control of it.

The coronavirus news cycle has been one unrelenting shit storm — and our phones and feeds are there to ping us about every single drop. We are constantly pulled into the latest affairs by push notifications, buzzes, Twitter mentions, and news feeds. It’s hard to step away because it’s important and necessary to stay informed. But it’s also stressful, frightening, rage-inducing, and never-ending. And it’s likely to lead to media burnout.

Brain drain, irritability, anger, anxiety, stress, inability to focus are all symptoms of media burnout. “It’s comparable to a stress burnout and it’s linked to anxiety. There’s so much going on in your head and brain, and you feel exhausted,” says Dr. Tricia Wolanin, a clinical psychologist and workshop facilitator for the United States Air Force. We have 50,000 to 80,000 thoughts a day swirling around in our heads, she adds. If the majority of them are dedicated to political calamity? The result is not good for anyone — especially busy parents who already need to juggle an extreme amount of thoughts.

So how do you avoid burnout? Ignore the news? Pretend the world isn’t on fire even as the flames lick your face? Of course not. The key to avoiding media burnout is to set healthy habits around your news — and tech — consumption (one is, after all, a direct feed to the other). With Dr Wolanin’s advice, here’s how to stay informed without losing your mind.

Don’t Make the News the First Thing You Hear or Read

Mornings are essential. And, per Wolanin, one of the best things you can do to make them useful is not read or listen to the news until later in the day. “The first thing you’re thinking about in the day shouldn’t automatically be what’s on your phone,” she says. Don’t turn on the news. Don’t turn on the TV. Listen to music or a podcast on the way to work. This sets the pace of your day and allows you to focus on yourself and your family, rather than reading the news and then rope-a-doping with the emotions stories produce. If you need to be informed in the early morning, then simply make sure that, whatever time you pick, you stick to it. If your time to read the news is between 8 and 8:20? That’s fine. Just make that your news time, and avoid it for the rest of the day.

Turn Off Your Push Notifications

Unless it depends on what you do for a living, there’s generally no reason you need to have push notifications on your phone about current events. In fact, push notifications are a sneaky way to make you addicted to your phone. They ding and buzz and you think, oooh, an important message! when in fact it’s a headline from the Times or Post. Turning off push notifications, Wolanin argues, allows you to stop the slow drip of news that bombards and distracts you at all times. This makes following the news an active choice instead of a passive one — and enables you to build healthy habits.

Cut Your News-Reading Time in Half

That’s right: in half. Screen time applications allow you to easily view how much time you’re spending on any given app. Look at how much time you’re spending catching up on current events and cut that time spent in half. Seriously. In half. That will make you more mindful of what you read and maybe even prevent you from tumbling into another story and then another. “We can get into the rabbit hole of looking at one thing, and then the other and then you’re immersed [in the news,]” says Wolanin. Set an alarm to sound when your news time is over. Even better: lock yourself out of the app after you’ve done your daily allotment.

Create Friction Between Yourself and Your News

Part of the problem with news burnout, like phone addiction, is that it’s just so easy to grab your phone and tap on a news app of choice and get sucked in. That’s why Wolanin suggests such tricks as deleting the app altogether or not saving your login information so that every time you pull up the news you have to go through the process of signing in. That’s likely to cause a little bit of friction between you and the action you’re trying to take, which will hopefully give you time to pause and remember you don’t need any more news today.

Stick to One News Program

Part of the problem with today’s media landscape is actually a good thing: there are so many ways to read or get the news. As a result, you find yourself absorbing news without being intentional about it. Wolanin instead suggests finding a source and sticking to it. “In England, for example, on the BBC News, at the end of every hour they have a news update. It’s brief,” she says. That way you can stay up to date on the current news without staying on the channel or letting it become background noise. Other suggestions? NPR has a very quick politics update every morning, The New York Times does the Daily, a podcast about the latest in political news, and some news apps round up the day’s news at the beginning and end of the day. No, you don’t want to develop confirmation bias. But you also don’t need to be constantly plugged in.