Can Exposure to Too Much (Social) Media Make You Sick?
It is all too much
Negative news that reaches us through (social) media can have a major impact on our lives. As Steven Patrick Morrissey once sang.
Stop watching the news
Because the news contrives to frighten you
To make you feel small and alone
To make you feel that your mind isn't your own
In an APA Stress in America™ Survey, adults indicated that: they felt a conflict between their desire to stay informed about the news and their view of the media as a source of stress.
While most adults (95 percent) say they follow the news regularly, fifty-six percent say that doing so causes them stress. Seventy-two percent also believe the media blows things out of proportion.
Everyone reading this article will have his or her senses bombarded with information. You would have to live on a remote island without books, newspapers, and the internet to escape the excess of information that reaches you daily. This enormous amount of information that you consciously and unconsciously receive doesn't have to be bad. Part of it is information that you have a specific interest in and, for example, information that you need to make wise decisions. Even so, I hear and see more and more people around me, complaining that it is becoming too much. The overwhelming amount of information (including news, opinions) that comes through:
- watching TV
- reading books and magazines
- seeing and hearing advertising
- browsing the internet
- using social media.
It's getting too much to handle. That's why more and more people are curating the information they want to allow into their lives.
I'm no exception. In particular, over the past four years, I've come to realize that I can't escape the algorithms that the Googles, Twitters, and Facebooks of the world are releasing on us. The discussions in the media about the election of Trump in the US and the Brexit referendum in England finally pushed me over the edge. I got tired of getting all worked up about the negativity on both sides. All the more, it didn't affect me as a Dutchman. In both cases, I had no vote. Yet these issues confronted me daily.
But that applies to a lot of topics. I am a curious person by nature, and I like to respectfully exchange points of view with others. Unfortunately, in the (social) media, in our digital world, every nuance gets lost.
Eventually, I deleted my Facebook account. And I put my twitter account on the back burner. I also blocked access on the internet to some online newspapers. I noticed more and more what a negative impact all this information from all corners of the world had on me. It disrupted my peace of mind, and that bothered me. Last but not least, I noticed that a filter bubble was forming around me as well.
What is a filter bubble?
When you surf the web, they make a profile of you. Among other things the big players on the internet base this on:
- your search history
- e-mail traffic
- buying behavior
- messages on social media
In short, this profile describes who you are and what your preferences and interests are. For new searches, everything that does not fit within your profile will be omitted. A different perspective, a different opinion, a critical article, or a contrary response, will be filtered out. This creates a filter bubble around each person.
Does that mean I'm an eccentric by turning away from everything? No, it doesn't. I've noticed that the most critical news somehow does get to you. Usually through one on one contact. Even in my weekly visit to our local library, where I go for a lovely cup of coffee or tea each Saturday, scanning the headlines of newspapers and magazines will quickly give you a sense of what is going on.
You don’t need to follow the news and be active on social media to be a productive member of society.
Stress and (social) media
Too much (social) media seems to be a cause of a lot of problems, but we created the monster ourselves.
Our brains are built to process stress relating to trauma. It does this by entering what is known as "fight, flight, freeze" mode before returning to a restful state. Yet, constant exposure to news can derail our ability to cope and hinder our ability to return to a relaxed state.
When we go into stress mode, go numb, or have an overactive fear response to the perceived threat. It triggers our physiology to release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
Recurrent exposure to news means the body undergoes this process far more frequently than ever. This exposure leads to an interruption in restful recovery.
News is toxic to your body. It triggers the limbic system. Panicky stories spur the release of cortisol. This results in a state of chronic stress for your body.
Chronic levels of stress can have a great number of manifestations, such as:
- muscle tension or pain
- stomach problems
- impaired digestion
- anxiety and sleep issues
- lack of growth in cells, hairs, and bones
- susceptibility to infections.
The other potential side-effects include aggression, fear, desensitization, and tunnel-vision.
Other Negative consequences of (social) media use
- Negative news from faraway places contributes to intolerance towards others. These others can be strongly associated with that news. Conversely, good news has absolutely no influence on the perception of that same group.
- Rather, people tend to associate bad news with themselves. That could well be an evolutionary reflex. After all, "It's better to be safe than sorry."
- It is quite ironic that globalization has not removed the lack of understanding for strangers.
- Media messages can drive or even lead you in a certain direction. Public opinion is, for a large part, determined by how news is presented — both in terms of content and form.
- Media represent reality from a certain perspective. Media messages are created by someone with a particular interest or worldview. It, therefore, seems practically impossible to formulate messages completely objectively. Often the perspective is clear, as in advertisements where you know that the maker wants to sell something. But sometimes it is not clear at all. Anyone can publish content on the internet, and it's often not clear from which perspective it's placed.
- Social media has an important impact on our society. They allow each person to send a message that may be heard and amplified by thousands or millions of others. Social media gives every citizen a voice they can use not only to express their opinion but also to organize meetings and protests. Moreover, social media is fast, usually free, and has the potential to reach millions. But there is also a dark side to this phenomenon. Facebook, Twitter, and Google pour billions of dollars into the infrastructure needed to keep such a network running. The value they receive in turn lies in what you give away for free:
- information about yourself
- information about your relationships,
- your preferences and location.
- That information is the product that social networks produce and sell to their customers: the companies that use your information for marketing purposes.
- Social media has its pros and cons. They herald the end of interpersonal relations in our society as we know them. On the one hand, they are medium that makes it easy for people to work together, create, and act together. But on the other hand, it isn't very easy to find out to what extent all this is being manipulated
How does social media impact health?
News can be bad for your health. It can lead to fear and aggression and hinder your creativity and ability to think deeply.
So what is the solution?
You could stop consuming it altogether.
One way of coping with this repeated exposure is by making sure that you don't get overloaded with the news. Keep your consumption within healthy boundaries.
Everyone has a different limit. It is up to you to find out what your limit is.
Setting a limit on how much you go on social media or look at the news creates time and space for you to calm your nervous system's stress response and return to normal. You might have to turn off push notifications on your phone or set aside specific times to check on world events.
It is essential to pay attention to the moment when you are overloaded when you feel numb and moody when you start to get stressed or irritated. When you feel these or any other outward symptoms of nervousness, that is your signal that you need to stop.
Furthermore, always ask yourself the following questions when you see or read a message in the media:
- Who offers this information? What interests does this person/organization have?
- What is the specific message? How does it relate to the interests of the provider?
- For whom is this message intended?
- Is the information correct? Always check by using multiple sources, such as another website, a book or social media
- Is there a filter bubble?
Does social media bring you down?
Do you get stressed or depressed by using social media?
Nowadays, we are all media creators. With every blog, vlog, tweet, or like you play a role in putting more information out there.
If you share horrific images, are you also responsible? You didn't write the article, nor did you take the video or photo.
Yet you publish a story, a comment, or an update by merely clicking. What is your responsibility in this?