4156535452_9f2ee39b7e_bThese days it seems that tragedy and horror have replaced sex when it comes to what sells. News stories are overwhelmingly filled with tales of school shootings, natural disasters, human catastrophes and disillusioning scandal. It is enough to turn anyone into a cynic. All that bad news, however, may be doing more damage than causing people to have pessimistic views about the world.  Constant bad news can actually do damage to a person’s health.

When a person experiences or hears about a disaster or other traumatic event, their body goes into fight, flight or freeze mode. The body is temporarily overwhelmed with stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Once the “threat” is resolved and the story is finished, the body should return to a homeostatic state. The constant inundation of bad news, however, means that a person is jumping from one “threat” to another with little time for the body to return to homeostasis. Instead, the stress hormones simply keep coming. This can lead to adrenal fatigue, anxiety, depression, migraines, stomach problems, insomnia and other complications that come with chronic stress.

On a more emotional level, repeated exposure to catastrophes can lead to what is called disaster fatigue. Essentially, a person becomes desensitized to others’ tragedies and horrors. This can lead to decreased empathy for victims of disasters and cut down on the number of volunteers and donors who help those most directly affected by the disaster.

In order to avoid both adrenal and disaster fatigue, people should try to limit their intake of bad news. People can set time limits on their Facebook accounts to avoid scrolling past posts of disasters for hours on end. Decide that the TV can only be playing the news for one hour, then switch it to a more lighthearted subject such as a comedy movie or upbeat romance. A person can also switch news outlets and choose sources that focus more on good news than lovingly laying out every detail of the latest disaster.

When a person begins to feel “off” after reading or watching too much bad news, they should use stress management techniques such as exercise, meditation, spending time with loved ones and singing. A person’s nervous system is soothed when the face muscles or vocal cords are used, hence the reason singing and deep breathing have such calming effects.

The best defense against the apathy brought on by disaster fatigue, however, is human connection. When people feel connected to their community, they are more resilient in the face of disasters. They either bounce back faster themselves or are better equipped to help others on the road to recovery. It may sound cliché, but when it comes to dealing with bad news, sometimes the best thing a person can do is focus on someone else. Helping someone else helps themselves.

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