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Why We Need to Say STOP to Social Media Scare Tactics

Man reading news app on his phone, depressed by negative headlines
Getty Images / Georgijevic

The news is a business. Ratings are as important to broadcasting companies as keeping us informed.

But with anxiety, depression, and news fatigue on the rise, is it a public duty to say STOP to sensationalized headlines? Martin Gallagher explains how boundaries with social media protect his mental health.

Sometimes we find ourselves surrounded by nothing but horrifying news stories. We have 24/7 access to information from almost every country. Every TV channel has an endless stream of Live announcements.

We're more informed than we've ever been. There are no excuses for not knowing now. We label anyone who isn't up-to-date on the latest news as uncaring or unintelligent.

And even 24/7 coverage isn't enough; we're constantly bombarded with more. You'll find more analyses, angles, and opinions on any social media platform.

“News fatigue” is taking its toll

Everything – from wars to celebrity gossip - is up for discussion on social media. In a matter of clicks, we can access people's opinions from all over the world.

Online, it takes seconds to find someone with an opposing opinion. Before you know it, you're sucked into a heated debate. Social media encourages us to argue with one another.

As I was “doomscrolling” throughout the pandemic, a new term stood out: "news fatigue." (By the way, "doomscrolling" is another term that COVID-19 made popular).

COVID-19 and related deaths have hogged the headlines on TV and in newspapers for two years. When that was nearing an end, we were freshly disturbed by reports of Russia's attack on Ukraine. Closer to my home, there were reports of police committing kidnappings, murders, and cover-ups. Things were looking very dystopian.

Yes, we need to know these things. We’re under no illusions that the world is always a happy, safe, considerate place to live. But my mind was becoming bludgeoned by months of non-stop negativity.

Will Smith was my tipping point

Then, in March 2022, I woke up to the news of Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Academy Awards. The comments bought up a host of recent inappropriate jokes from comedians.

A joke by Jimmy Carr started trending again - the one about the Holocaust being "positive" when Gypsies were mass-murdered. 

As always, everything is two steps forward, one step back. Racism is finally getting called out, but Gypsy discrimination is immune to criticism. Many of the public agreed with Carr's joke.

Not long afterward, discussions moved to past award winners and sexual assault accusations. People started sharing traumatizing pictures, articles, and recordings. And all this happened within an hour!

I scrolled on and saw the rest of my feed filled with the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. My brain started to hurt. Like someone had flicked an "off" switch, I felt the depression well up and drag me down. "What's the point in working today?" it said. "What's the point of working when the world is so awful?"

You can't help thinking depression is putting up a good argument on days like these.

There is always something clamoring for our attention

The bad news never ends. We can only watch with horror as we witness:

  • Ukrainians being attacked in their hometowns
  • More examples of corruption in the government
  • Fuel costs rise beyond our means
  • The threat of oncoming nuclear war.

All this negative news makes me wonder how much it's affecting my loved ones and me. My mind was full of death tolls, hastily-assembled government speeches, and violent politics.

I was on the verge of tears several times that month. I couldn't process what the news was saying. I couldn't answer my family's stream of questions. I couldn't do anything, and I felt helpless.

Could I reverse the damage from social media?

I finally said: "STOP." I was being pushed too far, and my mental health was suffering.

While staying informed is a must, limit your time on social media and watching the news. Knowing what's going on doesn't need to be an "all day, every day" task.

I compulsively checked the news to see if anyone would be held accountable for the war. Unfortunately, accountability was not forthcoming. With all these injustices, it's no wonder we all get riled up so quickly!

Meanwhile, social media is the perfect breeding ground for resentment and anger. News is no longer just news; it's as sensationalized as possible. Broadcasters want to inform the public - but they also crave likes, comments, and shares. Did you know that 8 out of 10 people will only read a headline before reacting? News companies know this, so the most histrionic headline usually wins.

It is also vital to vet where you're getting your information. "Trustworthy" social media accounts could really be spreading fake news. I've stumbled across "unbiased" political commentary online and cited it many times. I found out later these trusted broadcasters were distorting context and falsifying data. They were definitely pushing their own agenda.

I know it's not exactly my fault, but when I unearth my mistakes, I can't help but feel guilty. Am I contributing to someone's mental health crisis? How many of my online followers shared the same articles or videos? Do they know (or care) these sources have been proved biased or wrong?

I've tried to be more careful with the news I share and the sources I take it from, but it's still a minefield. Even the most neutral news platforms have agenda biases or want to spin certain angles. No one can do right for doing wrong.

Imposing social media boundaries to improve mental health

I know that being in a constant state of anger, frustration, and anxiety is not healthy. We need to take care of our mental health now more than ever.

The world won't stop turning because we can't handle the bad news. We're not immune to tragedy, either. One day, terrible things happening in a far-off country might happen to us.

However, we can set boundaries to stop us from feeling like we're drowning. For years, we've known that social media and smartphones are linked to rising depression and anxiety.

Yet we still spend a noticeable part of our day interacting with it.

In January 2022, the average time spent on social media was 2 hours and 27 minutes a day.

So, by logging out of Facebook, are we in denial of what's happening around us? Or are we trying to repair what the COVID-19 years have done to our mental and physical health?

Children born during the first lockdown are now two years old. How much have they been able to explore the outside world? How often have they seen their parents anxious, distracted, and distressed? How many of us relied on screens to act as semi-babysitters when working from home?

It's no one's fault. But experts predicted our obsession with screens long ago. We all agreed that it sounded like a problem but did nothing to stop it. And, now, we criticize kids for their fixation on the technology we bought for them. We can't solve war, but we can do something about our relationships with tech and social media.

We only occupy tiny spaces in a packed and growing world. Misery and worry are sometimes inevitable - but we’re not betraying anyone by keeping ourselves happy and safe.

The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for managing anxiety or depression. Please consult with a professional who can apply best practices and appropriate resources to your situation.

The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen. 


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