I still remember the hours following the tragedy at the Boston Marathon in 2013. Many of us in Flint knew some of the runners and anxiously awaited the news that our colleagues were unharmed. Three people, including an eight-year-old boy, were killed, and hundreds were injured when two bombs exploded ten seconds apart near the finish line.
Not surprisingly, witnessing tragedy leaves a lasting imprint on our mental health even when we’re not one of the victims. The mental health of those present at the event was negatively affected, even if they didn’t know any of the injured or the runners and did not suffer injury. Likewise, having a personal connection with individuals affected can negatively impact our mental health.
But there is another group whose mental health is negatively impacted that was neither present nor personally connected. According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of California in Irvine, persons consuming more than six hours of news coverage during the week following the event were more likely to suffer from acute anxiety stress than those of us who had personal connections but spent less time listening and watching news coverage.
Writing for BBC News, journalist Zaria Gorvett writes:
It turns out that news coverage is far more than a benign source of facts. From our attitudes to immigrants to the content of our dreams, it can sneak into our subconscious and meddle with our lives in surprising ways. It can lead us to miscalculate certain risks, shape our views of foreign countries, and possibly influence the health of entire economies. It can increase our risk of developing post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression.
Like empty calories, the amount of news we consume negatively affects our health. Gorvett observed, “We are constantly simmering in a soup of news, from the moment we wake up in the morning to the moment we close our eyes each night.”
The quantity of news we take in is much more than the news we may watch on local networks. The internet and social media provide a river of made-up and real news. And an increasing number of these sources offer to notify us of news and announcements they deem essential.
The Prophet Isaiah had this to say about news, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say ‘Your God reigns!'”
How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.
Perhaps this is why most of us want to share good news right after we hear it. We want beautiful feet. Yet, while we may prefer to deliver good news over bad news, the reality is that we gravitate toward bad news. According to research, we actually pay more attention to negative news, and this tendency is likely connected to survival instinct.
There are numerous studies and examples that collaborate the harm caused by indulging in negative news. For example, medical professionals worry that we’re less likely to notice the early warning signs for forms of cancer that we believe rarely occur. Yet, the news coverage of cancer, rather than actual statistics, is our go-to source for whether one form of cancer occurs more often than another.
Gorvett notes that the possibility of adverse outcomes almost always overshadows a perception of positive results. Politicians prey on this condition to increase media coverage of their campaign messages, often manipulating facts or outright lying to improve their popularity.
The news that Jesus was born was told to shepherds tending to their livestock. Luke tells us that Angels told them they could find the baby in Bethlehem and that His birth was good news for all humanity. The shepherds not only found the baby, but they told everyone that would listen about the news.
Despite the cultural precedence at the time that shepherds could not be trusted, Luke says that “all were amazed” by what the shepherds said.
The last to hear the good news was the religious leaders who insisted that attention to ritual detail take precedence over caring for those needing help. As Jesus Himself spread the good news of God’s arrival among humanity, this group would hear His message as bad news.
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Our series was inspired by and relies on content provided by Angela Hunt. The Shepherd’s Wife. Jerusalem Road Series. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2020.
Zaria Gorvett. “How the news changes the way we think and behave.” © BBC News, May 12,2020. Retrieved from: link