4 Ways To Stop Your Hurricane Harvey News-Binge (And REALLY Do Some Good)

Photo: instagram 
hurricane harvey stress

It’s 3 p.m. my blood sugar is low, my attention span is short, and instead of coffee or chocolate, I turn to image after image of Hurricane Harvey.

When I am interrupted by my spouse 45 minutes later cheerfully checking in on me, I respond more harshly than I would like, and am now even less motivated to get back to work.

What is happening to me?

Images of Hurricane Harvey have saturated the media and most of us do not want to be caught unaware.

It turns out that consistent exposure to negative news directly impacts our mental health including an increase in stress, anxiety, and depression.

Although exposure to post disaster media has not been directly linked to increased PTSD symptoms, exposure to these media images may have more lasting effects than low motivation and mood swings.

How do we manage our disaster media consumption so that we consume it and it doesn't consume us?

1. Know your intent.

Are you truly seeking information or are you seeking distraction?

Taking a break from your work can increase productivity; however, feeling compelled to consume media despite negative consequences can also make us feel irrational or out of control.

2. What is the impact?

Have you lost valuable time? Are you more or less motivated or stressed? How do you feel after you have stopped? An hour later? 4-5 hours later?

Recent studies have shown that consuming negative news not only adds stress and impacts our mood but also directly affects productivity. It turns out that our brain’s processing of negative information has a longer delay in reaction on our bodies than passive or neutral information.

So the impact of your negative media consumption may have a delayed reaction on your mood or stress levels. If there are no negative results, even delayed, then you may be moderating adequately.

If you find yourself to be more impatient, pessimistic, distracted, or unmotivated, you may need to take steps to limit your access.

3. Balance your input.

Our brains are built with more sensitivity to negative news. One significant negative event has a more lasting impact than one significant positive event.

In order to counter the impact of a negative event we actually need to experience smaller positive events at a ratio of 5-1.

Imagine that for every negative image you allow yourself to see you must prescribe yourself 5 cat videos that make you laugh or smile. Media consumption is like food consumption.  We can’t live completely without it and some media is more nutritious than others.

You might consider joining the Slow News Movement popularized by Dan Gilmour, as a way to limit and balance your media intake.

4. Don’t just sit there, do something.

Not all stress is bad. Muscles grow when stressed appropriately. There is even a word for positive stress that is beneficial to the experiencer: eustress.

One way to know if your consumption is causing eustress is to ask,  “Am I motivated to act?”

What resources do you have to support the victims of the Hurricane? Is there a local and reputable effort to offer support? Could you donate money, time or organize a drive for needed items connected to the larger effort?

Anxiety and excitement have the same physiological effects on the body. What if we choose to be excited instead of anxious and do something with that energy?

Taking action helps us feel as though we are positively contributing to solving the problem which not only helps us but helps others.

For a list of suggested places for monetary donations, check out this NPR resource with a diverse array of options for sending donations.

When disaster strikes, don’t go cold-turkey on media.

Instead, mindfully consume your media before your media consumes you.

Translate your stress into action and take care of yourself!

Tamara Lebak is a Unitarian Universalist minister, published author and executive coach. Contact her today to align your intent with your impact in all areas of your life, or book an apptointment now.