Coronavirus – How Much Bad News Can a Brain Take?

Posted on February 28, 2020

People who work at home will understand me when I admit I talk to myself in the house. I even talk to the dog as if though he is fully conversant in English. “Ok boy, just putting some washing in, then we will go for a walk”. I’m descending slowly into madness.

Yesterday, when more great news about the Coronavirus came on the radio, I said, “Oh just fuck off will you”, and turned it off. I should be interested, as my shit pension is collapsing along with the stock market. I am also approaching an age where Coronavirus might offer me an early introduction to my maker, which due to the state of the world, might not be such a bad thing.

Why am I not bothered about Coronavirus? Well, I think it is a situation where I am suffering from a condition I call, ‘Shit News Overdrive’. I was always taught (by my grandmother in particular) to stay informed and generally, I try.

However, Coronavirus is a step too far. I like to be of a reasonably positive disposition, so unless it gets me first, Coronavirus will have to wait until it stops raining, if it ever does. I am currently spending more money washing my dog than washing myself. I am longing for a dog walk that ends without my water meter taking another battering.

Is Bad News Unhealthy?

So, is too much bad news unhealthy? Fortunately for anyone reading this, I did some research.

To kick off with, apparently half of the people who regularly read the news say it causes stress, anxiety, fatigue or sleep loss. Despite that, we can’t get enough of it. At least one in 10 adults check their news feeds every hour, whilst one in five monitor their social media feeds, exposing them to the latest news headlines

Whilst it’s not a revelation that news you find concerning could produce stress and anxiety, recent changes to the way we receive news could be.  Psychologists (bloody experts at it again) say that the way we receive our news on social media, depending on our disposition, may not be good for mental and physical health.

Graham Davey

“The way that news is presented and the way that we access news has changed significantly over the last 15 to 20 years,” says Graham Davey, a professor of psychology at Sussex University in the UK and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Experimental Psychopathology. “These changes have often been detrimental to general mental health”, he says.

According to Davey, negative TV news produces sadness and anxiety. “Our studies also showed that this change in mood exacerbates the viewer’s own personal worries, even when those worries are not directly relevant to the news stories being broadcast,” he says, presumably, not in a bubbly manner.

The good news about bad news just keeps coming. Whilst increased anxiety could be regarded as a good reason enough to be wary of overdoing it on current affairs, there are other side effects. Stress-related hormones (namely cortisol) have been linked to inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease and other serious health concerns. Fuck me, its Love Island for me from now on.

It does beg the question, if the news causes so much grief, why are some of us obsessed by it? Back over to you, Graham Davey. “The human brain is also wired to pay attention to information that scares or unsettles us—a concept known as “negativity bias“.

Bad News on the Brain

Thanks, Graham, more of you at the thrilling climax to this blog. I am now going to another bloody expert, Professor Loretta Breuning, author of Habits of a Happy Brain.

“In a state of nature, our survival depends on finding rewards and avoiding harm, but avoiding harm takes priority,” says Breuning.

She goes on to explain that the human brain is attracted to frightening information because we are programmed to detect threats, not to overlook them. “This can make it hard for us to ignore the negatives and seek out the positives around us,” she says. “Our brain is predisposed to go negative, and the news we consume reflects this.”

“There’s this idea of following the news in order to be an informed citizen, but a lot of what you see today is gossip elevated to a sophisticated level,” she says. There is a claim that this is entirely the point of it, because physical and mental stress is great news for one of the world’s biggest industries…pharmaceuticals. That’s a conspiracy theory that can wait for another day.

What all the experts do agree on, is that whilst it is important to stay educated and well informed, if you find your news habit is messing with your relationships or well-being, some changes to the ways you interact with the news may well be in order.

Channelling our News

Back over to you Graham. “Try to be aware of how [the news] changes your mood or makes your thoughts more negative,” Davey advises. If you notice a news-induced surge of pessimism, taking a breather with mood-lifting activities like listening to music, exercising or watching something that makes you laugh may all help counteract those dark vibes.

Staying aware and informed is good for the brain. But when it comes to your health, it looks like too much news will cause you various negativity issues.

For instance, I read today that there was a 52-year-old chap sat at his keyboard working when he was struck down with Coronavirus. One minute he was typing away merrily, the next he collapsed and was found dead with his face planted on the keyb ckejfhgfiughwqriljhbme9u89y`289gf9uhncjnn2ijv3oibho14noihnnnnnniuhbvkhblkubkubvruivhbo;iu3hn`jvboi3jnbionbipjnio3noin3blonvlnoli3nli3nbvli3bnblin3bol3nbli3jnbloi3jbloi3jnbli1jnbloinl13jboljnbobijoibnjnjl1i43jhlihmgt823yuo`

1 Reply to "Coronavirus - How Much Bad News Can a Brain Take?"

  • Trevor
    March 3, 2020 (12:02 am)

    Nice post.
    Monday nights is usually the one evening that I sit down and watch TV as the ABC (Australia) run three or four factual news programmes.

    Sometimes (but certainly not always) Australia feels like a parallel universe to the UK as the format and presenters of some ABC programmes are very similar to the BBC – for example Monday’s ABC schedule is made up of (‘7.30’ – in depth news), Australian Story (a newsworthy documentary/kind of Panorama-esque), Media Watch (a sardonic and more upmarket kind of ‘Points-of-View’ which pokes fun at News international) and Q&A (basically Question Time, with a cunning host and panel of MP and B-list celebs discussing topics of the day but with loads more use of Twitter which makes it more amusing/entertaining).
    Depending on when I can cajole the kids to bed I come into the schedule at varying points through the evening.

    Last night I turned off as I just couldn’t cope with how depressing it all was.

    I really hear your points about ‘detecting threats’ and ‘staying aware’. I liked this as an explanation.

    Throughout this summer we’ve been glued to the radio, whether it’s been the bushfires (which were 200 miles across and came genuinely close to burning down Canberra), the smoke-poisoned air (which was at hazardous levels for 56 days across three months) and the hail storm which destroyed upwards of 10,000 cars (fortunately not mine) throughout the city. The survival instinct was real!

    Last night’s TV was all about Corona virus, which we’re all learning to call COVID-19 (in a similar way to how everyone struggled to know whether to express the date as ‘two-thousand and ten’ or ‘twenty ten’. Then we had kids who were gender neutral and opposed to binary definitions of their gender (and of course the awful prejudice that will now face them for their entire lives) then a bit of religious historical s3xual abuse (of which Australia has a shocking history of) and then rounded things off with aboriginal disadvantage and a bit more abuse.
    I went to bed feeling really down. As you say I can see why Love Island is such a draw-card over there. Here we’ve got ‘Married at First Sight’ but things haven’t sunk so low that I feel the need to watch it just yet. I think I might take up jigsaws or something, until the COVID 19 gets me too.

Got something to say?

Some html is OK

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.