06 Oct Here’s how to cope with negative news headlines
Do you get uncomfortable feelings when you read negative or pessimistic headlines?
You, like the rest of us have mirror neurons in your brain that predisposes you to feel empathic. The good news is empathy helps you live cooperatively with others. The bad news is you are naturally inclined to imitate what you see without thinking about it, even when you might feel hurt by it.
You can have either a positive or negative emotional response to headlines depending on their content. For example, a study of 426 headlines on the cover of five of the highest circulating women’s health magazines in the United States revealed that the frequency of appearance themes (looking better) equaled those of health themes (doing something to feel better). The 103 undergraduate women in the study assigned to the appearance-themed covers reported more “body shame” than women assigned to magazines with health-themed covers.
Headlines partnered with images are especially influential because we process them in the right brain where an automatic body response is stimulated. For example, I remember my children as infants staring intently at their first book absent words, but filled with kindly human faces. The friendly feeling portrayed in the faces consistently drew smiles and happy sounds.
Interestingly, headlines are not always dependable to tell the truth of a story. Blake Andrew of McGill University analyzed headlines versus the storyline of articles during the 2004 Canadian federal election campaign. He found that headlines were created to “attract” readers not represent the accuracy of the story. Yet, many of us don’t take the time to read the whole article. Instead, we use headlines as a shortcut to gain a sense of it.
Further, viewing tragedy in the media has proven to be capable of creating PTSD. After the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013, the University of California, Irvine published a study that assessed the level of stress symptoms affecting people who watched it on television, social media, in print and on the radio. They found that “Acute stress symptoms increased with each additional hour of bombing-related media exposure.” As a result, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Center for PTSD concluded that there is a link between watching news of traumatic events and stress symptoms. Further, they found people who have experienced previous trauma suffer a cumulative effect with intensified reactions. In other words, seeing scary experiences creates a biochemical event that registers in the body whether we are experiencing them directly or through empathy with others. People with previous trauma are especially vulnerable.
What’s your tipping point for negative news? Some of us are more easily influenced than others. Become aware of when you reach your limits depending on your level of empathy. The greater your empathy, the lower your tolerance for seeing tragedy without being hurt.
Here are four ways to use your smart Emotional Operating System (EOS) to keep yourself emotionally safe from harmful headlines…
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