Overstimulated by the news: How to navigate through times of crisis

by Susan Jörges

“Robert-Koch-Institute reports highest daily number of infections”, appears on the screen of my phone. The local newspaper lying on the kitchen table is titled with a similar headline, corona is issue number one in the evening TV-news, and my Instagram feed recommends a livestream of the government´s press conference.

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Since March the coronavirus has determined life around the globe and media are fulfilling their intrinsic duty: they report the latest number of infections, elaborate on the pandemic´s consequences and outline current rules for schooling, events and sports. Generally, a majority uses the broad spectrum of corona-related media content. As recent studies have pointed out, media consumption has increased enormously during the pandemic. A survey conducted in six countries (Argentina, Germany, South Korea, Spain, UK, US) testifies a rise in social media and online-news usage, video consumption and broadcast-TV (Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, 2020). Moreover, researchers found out that during the pandemic, corona-related content has dominated consumers’ online time (Global Web Index, 2020). Within weeks, keeping up to date and informing oneself about the latest developments became quite natural for lots of people around the world. But some other findings occurred: One in three people says that media have exaggerated the pandemic (Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, 2020), and that aside from corona-related  content, people have been looking a lot for humorous content like music, videos and games (Global Web Index, 2020). Does coronavirus-fatigue set in?

News construct reality

In times of little social contact and experiences outside, media shape how people perceive the world. News need to be processed in our brains and have to be integrated into existing knowledge. News influence how we feel, how we imagine our future. With two crises right on our doorstep (yes, please let us not forget that there is a second crisis, the climate crisis, which won´t stand still during the corona-era), it is tough to stand straight. There is a phenomenon I have noticed myself throughout the last weeks: I´m tired and overwhelmed. Latest updates about corona are followed by reports about climate change scenarios. Don´t get me wrong, I really appreciate the rising media attention for global warming, it will shape life on planet earth in the long run. But daily updates, podcast and news-tickers about crises-related topics cause an overstimulation, especially if you follow all rules that are necessary to fight the pandemic yourself and strive to make climate-friendly decisions in terms of food, mobility and consumption.

Is it weak and privileged to feel overwhelmed by the flood of news about crises?
Privileged or not – what helps against this overstimulation caused by media? Instead of closing our eyes to reality and deleting all news-apps from media devices, widely referred to as media disenchantment, here are some suggestions for media consumption during crises:

  1. Choose your sources wisely

Ask yourself: who produces the information, which experts are quoted and is the source trustworthy? A balanced mix of national and local print, online and TV sources is way better than a bunch of news portals and social media sites.

  1. Set a timeframe

Push messages are helpful to be up to date, e.g. if you curiously wait for the final outcome of a sports game, but they can spark the overstimulation that I have mentioned before. Instead, it helps to check the news three to four times a day when you take a break from work and your brain has capacity to process the incoming information.

  1. Take a break

What about a walk just by yourself or with your favorite singer-songwriter? No podcast, no voicemails, no push-messages. Or a lunch without any device lying next to your plate. It will clear your mind and create energy.

  1. Speak up

The corona and climate crisis encompass the whole world. Sharing your thoughts with loved ones will create a feeling of solidarity. Talking to other generations might also help to reclassify the current events, which are crises in a row of many that have happened in the past and will emerge in the future.

Corona or climate: Talk about it, look out for habits that help you to stay healthy and follow the rules that are necessary to suspend rising temperatures and the spread of the virus world-wide.

References:

Global Web Index (2020). Coronavirus Research. Series 4: Media Consumption and Sport. London: Global Web Index.

Nielsen, Rasmus Kleis; Fletcher, Richard; Newman, Nic, Brenner J. Scott, Howard, Philip N. (2020). Navigating the ”Infodemic”: How People in Six Countries Access  and Rate News and Information  about Coronavirus. Oxford: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford.

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