There was a time—it may be difficult to remember now—when being a news junkie wasn't hazardous to your health—but you won't believe what watching the news every day does to your body. It's been a year of exceptionally stressful developments in the news, including a global pandemic, high-pressure presidential contest and widespread racial strife, and your daily consumption of TV, radio and social news, which may have been no problem a few years back, may leave you feeling overwhelmed, anxious or depressed. That's because your body and brain respond to negative messages in a range of ways that affect you from head to toe. "The constant exposure to negative and violent media drives up our stress hormone, cortisol," says Monisha Bhanote, MD, an integrative medicine physician in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. Here's what experts say watching the news every day does to your body.
Watching the News Elevates Your Cortisol Level
"The continuous chronic release of cortisol increases our heart rate and blood pressure while decreasing our rest-and-digest response," says Bhanote. That can cause weight gain, particularly an increase in difficult-to-lose belly fat. The rise in cortisol has been shown to affect women in particular. After having volunteers watch bad news and have their saliva tested for the hormone, "it led to a significant increase in cortisol to a subsequent stressor in women only," according to a study in PLOS One. "Also, women in the negative news condition experienced better memory for these news excerpts compared to men. These results suggest a potential mechanism by which media exposure could increase stress reactivity and memory for negative news in women."
Watching the News Can Cause Sleep Issues
Having trouble sleeping these days? Oversleeping? You're not alone—and your news consumption may be to blame. "Watching the news every day can lead to sleep problems, which can further increase the risk for health-related problems secondary to stress and depression," says Leann Poston, MD. Poor-quality sleep has been linked to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and dementia, just to name a few serious conditions.
Watching the News Can Raise Your Blood Pressure
It's not just a turn of phrase—chronically exposing yourself to stressors like the news really can raise your blood pressure. "Frequently, news stories are presented in such a way to elicit an emotional response from viewers," says Poston. "This can lead to high blood pressure and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease."
Watching the News Can Activate Your Fight-Or-Flight Response
"The news often shows sensationalized headlines that focus on the negative. Negative news items can also aggravate our worries even if they are not related to the news, while repeated negative news can make us feel unsafe," says Brian Wind, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. "The constant exposure to negative information can cause your body to activate the 'fight or flight' system." This can lead to elevated levels of anxiety and related health problems.
Watching the News Can Stress Out Your Children
If you're getting a little too caught up in the news, the children around you can probably sense it. "Kids are like a sponge with fear – they're going to absorb everything in their environment," says Dr. Gregory Jantz, Ph.D. "Yes, it's understandable that you want to keep up with what's going on in the world, but let's be careful about what we are, perhaps inadvertently, inserting into our kids' lives. They're already dealing with a lot this year. So be careful about over-injecting anxiety and fear."
Watching the News Might Have No Effect—and Here's How to Consume it Responsibly
"A really interesting study from St. Louis tested exposure to Fox and MSNBC in 34 healthy adults and found no negative effects with short-term news exposure," says infectious disease physician Ceppie Merry, MD, Ph.D. "Even if the news was discordant from the participants' political views." The key phrase here is "short-term." If the news is stressing you out, it's a good idea to set limits on your news consumption—for example, you could say you'll allow yourself an hour a day of TV news, and if you're a Twitter junkie, check your feed one or twice a day for 15 minutes max. And after you turn off the TV, no matter where you live, wear a face mask, practice social distancing, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.