with the news constantly flash ing and splashing all around us, it's easy to forget that everything we read and watch tampers with our chemical balance, for better or worse. So how can we keep informed about the world and still protect our bodies from stress, worry and over-agitation? This media-saturated world calls for the fine art of conscious viewing, a discipline that relies on both meditation and cognitive therapy techniques. In other words, take control of your mind - don't let news editors, headline writers and TV producers set your mental temperature.
Rule number one: talk back. When news seems overwhelming, defang the power of the message by remembering that some editor somewhere is likely fixating on the terrible for ratings purposes.
Rule two: always seek alternative sources. This way you get to explore the bias built into certain news outlets as well as gain insight into how the info you're receiving is juiced to construct fear, panic and over-attention.
Rule three: don't let an overindulgence in the news generate passivity. This will always promote stress. The best antidote is taking action to help, no matter how small.
What the Experts Say
"We have two choices - to run away from the news or to fight it through thinking strategies that help us reduce its impact. We (often) automatically maximize the negative aspects of the news and minimize the positive. We generalize from small negative events, exaggerating them and saying, 'This is bad, the future will be bad, the world is over.' It's easy to change those patterns. Start to dispute and challenge them. Look at the positive side. When you dispute (negative thoughts) you put things into a more healthy balance and feel better. We are most stressed when we feel we have lost control."
MARK BERBER, MD, psychiatrist, University of Toronto lecturer
"Watching TV or reading a newspaper, we're often by ourselves. Alone, it's easy to be afraid and overwhelmed. (At our church) we've been talking about fear and how it seems to be cultivated - Mad Cow, SARS, West Nile, terrorists. The headlines are saying we're supposed to be walking in fear all the time. Jesus said, 'Do not worry, do not be afraid.' There are no guarantees in life, but we have confidence in our relationship with God, and we try to live in that confidence."
LINDA BUTLER, minister, Bloor Street United Church
"Don't watch or read the news before sleep. That's a sensitive time when the subconscious is very active and you carry thoughts all during sleep. Exercise control over the amount of information and stimulation you allow your mind to be exposed to. We get stressed because we're looking for stress, we're looking for stimulation. When we look for pleasure, for excitement, there is a downside - we can't go up without going down. We can choose less sensational news that appeals more to the intellect."
SADASIVA , yoga teacher, Sivananda Yoga Centre
"Each of us has to ask what our purpose is. We can use that perspective as a kind of filter to (help us) dump sensationalism and choose what we want to get from the news. I am looking for a better perspective on how the world works. Some of the most important news is not being covered, and deeply disempowering activities are being carried out without public knowledge. Support independent media and non-profits working for media responsibility. Check out sites like goodnewsnetwork.org, commondreams.org, truthout.org and projectcensored.org.
FRED BURKS , founder, Wanttoknow. info
"Watch less TV and read more. Physiological research shows the simple act of watching commercial television raises stress levels and that stress is induced on purpose. Fast edits and unusual video and sound are used to keep your attention so you'll watch the commercials. Sensational news is news you have no power to act on. To me, news ought to be important to your life and something you have a way to act on. I avoid reading about anything I know I'm not going to be able to help."
WADE ROWLAND, lecturer, social and cultural history of communications technology, Trent University, former exec, CTV and CBC TV news