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Consuming Negative News Dramatically Lower your Productivity at Work

Updated: Feb 16, 2023

“If you wish to improve,” Stoic philosopher Epictetus said, “be content to appear clueless or stupid in extraneous matters.”

You might say that you watch the news as soon as you get up or after getting back from work. The reason: because you want to know what is happening around the world and you are the one who likes to stay well informed. Well! News items (not all) that are on the TV or radio don't show what is happening around the world. They are mostly those things that sell, that raise their TRP.

According to a Pew survey, in 2010, Americans spent an average of 57 minutes a day getting news from radio, television, and print newspapers, with an additional 13 minutes spent getting news online. That equates to 70 minutes of news consumption every day. Today that figure is much higher due to the amount of time we spend on social media and our phones.

Most news items we see on TV are about murder cases, rape cases, stock market movements, injustice, violence, and terrorist attacks. And how much ever sad or anxious we feel about these, we have no control over all of them. How much ever we try, we can't reverse a terrorist attack or a stock market downfall.

When we go to our office or workplace with this attitude we approach our work and challenges very differently. In the field of psychology, the challenging situations where we know our behavior won't make any difference are called 'learned helplessness'. And this mindset of 'learned helplessness' is characterized by depression and decreased productivity.

Research has shown that those who had watched the negative news bulletin spent more time thinking and talking about their worries, and they were more prone to catastrophize their worries than the other two groups. ‘Catastrophizing’ is when you think about an issue so much that it becomes much worse than it was at the start and much worse than it is in reality—a tendency to make mountains out of molehills!

According to another survey, more than half of Americans are stressed by the news, and many are experiencing anxiety, fatigue, or sleep loss as a result. Still, one out of every ten adults read the news every hour, and over 20% of Americans report "constantly" monitoring their social media feeds—which frequently exposes them to the latest news headlines, whether they like it or not.

A preliminary research study was conducted by Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan along with researcher Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania where they found that just 3 minutes of viewing negative news has a substantial effect on our mood.

They also partnered with Arianna Huffington to study the long-term effect of negative news items on our overall performance and well-being. 110 people who participated in this study were divided into 2 groups. One group watched the negative news for 3 minutes before 10 am and the other group watched solution-focused news at the same time. The latter group saw videos demonstrating resilience. 6 hours later, the participants were given a survey to fill out. The survey contained various metrics to study their mood and stress levels.

The results that came up shocked the researchers so much that they had to double-check their analysis. The individuals who fell in the first group, who watched negative news items for 3 minutes reported a 27% greater likelihood of having an unhappy day as compared to the second group, even after 6-8 hours after watching the news. Those who watched transformative stories, on the other hand, reported having a good day 88 percent of the time.

So what is the solution?

Only if you are sure that the news item that is going to come up will be positive, watch it. The normal news channels on TV will never do so. Take control of what you click and of the time when you press the TV remote button.

While commuting, on your phone or car don't put a random radio show that might make you prone to noise or dump unnecessary information on your mind.

Disable news alerts from your news apps. If something important happens you will get to hear about it soon.

On Facebook and other social media sites, cancel the notifications for unnecessary negative news. If required use the ‘hide post’ feature to customize the type of content you want to see. After that, no one can force you to watch something that you do not like or is going to have a negative impact on your mind.

There are a lot of newsgroups on social media that only focus on positive and inspiring items. Likes those pages and subscribe to those channels. If you must consume something, make it something fun, uplifting, and positive.

There are a whole lot of podcasts out there on subjects such as positivity, motivation, energy, and so on. You must choose to hear, or watch anything that is empowering.

The whole point is to not land in a situation where you won't be able to take control and change something. This way you will not have externalities control you instead you will be the one driving your life's car where YOU are in the driver's seat.

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