The Problem with Staying Informed

On March 9, the students of the University of New Haven were sent home. So I have been home for one month and four days.

And boy, do I have a headache.

It could be from the screens. After all, we are relying on them now more than ever: to communicate, for entertainment, to learn, to work, to stay informed. Despite all the digital eye strain many of us are likely experiencing these days, I’d wager that my headache has more to do with the news.

We live in a time where the news cycle is 24/7, but in the past month, I’d argue that it is more accurately 25/8. There isn’t enough time in the day to catch up on all the information being spat at us. I tried, for a bit, as if I would one day read every article and watch every interview, and thus finally be crowned The Most Informed. I had to force myself to cut back when I began to realize how negatively it affected my mood. I’d turn off the television after a press conference feeling stressed, anxious, hopeless, and confused.

In addition to the daily briefings from the White House, people are turning to the internet to fill the gaps in their knowledge. Google search trends are dominated by questions about COVID-19, stimulus checks, and the economy.

News organizations have been busy. had six of its seven busiest days in history in the second week of March. According to data collected from The Nielsen Company, daytime viewership is up 132% for CNN, 77% for Fox News, and 38% for MSNBC in comparison from this same week last year.

In times of uncertainty, it’s normal for people to want to stay as informed as possible. According to this rapid-review study published in The Lancet medical journal, one of the best ways to mitigate the psychological consequences of quarantine is to provide quarantined individuals with as much information as possible.

The issue is that the information is changing so rapidly, and advice from the White House hasn’t always been consistent with CDC recommendations. At times, it’s a battle to weed out accurate information from all the noise. The uncertainty, combined with the fact that the news seems overwhelmingly negative right now, doesn’t leave fact-finders feeling fantastic.

According to psychologist Simon Sherry, we are likely experiencing a “digital distortion” due to the flood of negative, threatening, and panic-induced information that is being over-represented in our minds.

Dr. Gennady Musher, a psychiatrist and faculty member of UCLA, has a few tips for managing your mood while trying to stay informed. For starters, don’t use the TV as an escape (books, after all, don’t have “breaking news” banners) and try to seek out some positive news. Getting involved with organizations that align with your beliefs is also a great way to combat the “helpless” feeling some of us may be experiencing after a month of being cooped up at home.

It’s possible to stay informed without getting a headache or driving yourself crazy, which is good. Right now, I don’t think that any of us have any crazy to spare.