Friday, April 20, 2007

More News Viewing = More Stress

A new study suggests that TV coverage of the 9/11 attacks actually caused stress levels in viewers to rise. The study actually involved monitoring people’s dreams in the weeks before and the weeks following 9/11. It was published in the April issue of Psychological Science.

Ruth Propper, associate professor of psychology at Merrimack College, and her team found that stress levels rose by 6% for every hour of viewing 9/11 – related news coverage. She had students record their dreams in journals, and interpreted specific 9/11-type references to be indicative of higher stress levels. She stated that as compared to pre-9/11 dreams, post-9/11 dreams in most people were twice as likely to have specific 9/11-type occurrences, such as threatening themes involving planes or burning towers. The more coverage people viewed of 9/11, the more likely they were to have specific 9/11-type dreams. If one follows the theory that dreams relieve and/or reflect stress, then this study makes perfect sense.

This has everything to do with health, and I think it is the perfect jumping platform for me to say something I firmly believe in: Our 24-7 news-coverage culture is harming our health, especially the health of the most sensitive among us: children.

It is said that “ignorance is bliss.” It is, and I in no way advocate ignorance, especially of what is happening in the world around us. I actually believe that people in this nation aren’t aware enough of what is happening and the connection they should be making from it – to learn from others’ mistakes and not repeat them! That being said, I cannot blame people from wanting to remain in the dark. I blame our news stations more than anyone.

Take for example the tragic Virginia Tech shootings. Did I want to know about it? Of course. Did I want to know who died and who didn’t? Yes. But I must say (and I hope no one thinks I am being callous here, because I am not) that by the end of Tuesday, I was sick of it! I felt like this information was being beaten into me, and the more I heard, the more disgusted I became with what happened. The same thing goes for the whole Don Imus fiasco. The news has become nothing but the bad news and the depressing stuff. And yet, I endure it in hopes that on the occasional break, the news will report other things I really want to know - the weather, the stocks, the sports, politics and anything else happening in the world around me.

I don’t have kids, but if I did, I wouldn’t want to turn the news on either. They are so innocent, sensitive, and impressionable that I would not want them to be exposed to any of this. And yet, it’s everywhere! Every news station, every radio station, the net, the TV’s at the gym I go to (yes I have to watch this stuff while I huff away on the elliptical) even on the TV in the doctor’s office waiting room. Face it – we are literally bombarded with 24-7 news coverage of tragedy. How often do you turn the news on and hear a story of someone doing a lot of good? Rarely, and usually, the only good stuff we hear has to do with heroes in the midst of tragedy. No wonder we are stressed out!
Add the stress of our daily lives to the stress we view when we come home at night (when we’re supposed to be DE-stressing) and you have exactly the problem we face now in this nation – an overstressed, depressed society that cannot cope with much more. Thus, the smallest things can set us off. Crying kids, spousal spats, the guy that cuts us off on the highway. Is it any wonder the rates of divorce, abuse, messed-up kids, and road rage are on the rise?

The world is a rough, unforgiving place. Should we avoid it? No. However, we need balance. Watch the news, find out what is going on, and then turn it off. Make your home a place of refuge from the harshness of the world. Be sure to unwind and spend quality time with your family or significant other. The stress caused by our fast-paced, instant society can only be abated if we each take responsibility to purposely cut that stress out!

Study Information:

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