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News diet to avoid succumbing to bad news

Teresa Amor

This post is based on a personal experience; I have a Muslim friend who, in the face of the continuing terrible news of the massacre in Gaza, told me with tears in her eyes that she could not take it anymore; She was genuinely shocked and distressed by what was happening, although there was nothing she could do about it, and this helplessness was sapping her mood; I was struck by terrible images, some real and other manipulated, of the human and unbearable tragedy that was taking place just a few hours’ flight from Madrid.

I think we have all been impacted by those images; We’ve all looked away from our phones at some point, and we’ve all wanted to avoid thinking about those war-torn lives. I talked to my friend and explained to her how networks work, how to deal with this news and how we must protect ourselves from realities that we individually cannot prevent but that impact us in the same way as if we were living (or almost living) them on the ground; It is empathy, it is love for others, that makes us more vulnerable to the evil and suffering of others;

In a world where information is constantly flowing, negative news, particularly that related to war, has become a ubiquitous element in our lives. This constant stream of harrowing reports and international conflicts not only informs, but also shapes our perceptions and, ultimately, our moods;

When we dive into the coverage of the war, we are not only processing data, but also absorbing a significant emotional charge, and we are often doing so alone in front of our mobile phones, without the shelter of a familiar conversation that used to relativise the things we saw on TV. It’s a bit like the pandemic: the bombardment of messages, fake news, reports, press conferences, research that was published without passing the peer-to-peer filter… it killed our nerves and our ability to concentrate.We are still recovering.

The rawness of the violence, the loss of life and destruction of homes and hospitals, the uncertainty surrounding war events can fuel anxiety, while constant exposure to harrowing narratives can plunge us into a state of hopelessness;

We are victims, but there are more victims than us

Carmen Linares Albertos is dean of the College of Psychology of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, and I spoke to her about this, but she reminded me that the real victims are those who are suffering the war, in Gaza, in Ukraine, or in places less visible in the media and social networks: “Wars have devastating psychological effects for the population that suffers them. We are going to find various types of reactions. Among people who experience war very closely, they may develop post-traumatic stress disorder. People who suffer the loss of family and loved ones or pets, homes, etc., and go into a phase of bereavement;

Linares explains: “The uncertainty of what is going to happen, and the fear and violence to which they are subjected, means that they can develop a high level of anxiety and stress: “The fact that many people have to leave their homes also provokes a sense of uprootedness and not belonging that also needs to be worked on”. A borderline situation that, according to Linares, “causes physical and psychological symptoms, such as sleep disturbances, eating disorders, personality… and requires both social and psychological support”;

The damage will depend “on the type of war and its duration and intensity, as well as on the people who face it”, because, as Linares knows well, “there are people with brutal levels of resilience and others who have no tools and for whom it will be more difficult to cope with the situation”;

The mechanical damage of war

Her sentence about the impacts on the physical level led me to talk to the associate professor of the Carlos III University, Daniel García, who instructed me in what was the main topic of his doctoral thesis: how war impacts the brain, not at the psychological but at the mechanical level, and how that then has psychological repercussions at the behavioural and coping level.

Daniel started his research on materials, but during his research he applied the same materials methodology on biological material such as the brain of a laboratory mammal; Their aim was to determine how the deformation of these materials influences the cognitive level; “Your body is like wiring,” he explains, “if you distort it, you can load it up and it works worse;

The brain exposed to physical, mechanical impacts deteriorates faster and faster; The Day After has gone viral this video about former Atlético de Madrid captain Enrique Collar, who reminds us of this reality: scoring headed goals has consequences. Daniel Garcia began to move from the computational to the experimental side, subjecting laboratory mice to explosions (non-lethal, say to the blast wave) and then studying the damage to the brain;

They found that there was cognitive damage from mechanical pressure on neurons; The experimental animal showed severe stress to a flashing light; “A laboratory animal that had not suffered mechanical damage to the brain, being with others of its species without such stress, calmed down; in contrast, those animals subjected to mechanical damage lost that quality of social contagion so that they were not able to relax in contact with their calmer peers”;

Thus we see how war causes psychological stress, but also mechanical stress, or, in the words of this researcher, “causes emotional disorders associated with mechanical deformation”, specifically of neurons;

“This mechanical part (as seen in the film “The Truth Hurts“, which you can watch on Netflix); it is known to exist,” he stresses. “Stress can damage certain components and connections; it’s not just chemical: it’s also mechanical”; I will not go into the wonderful description of how neurons, when mechanically deformed, modify their behaviour; It is as fascinating as it is complex to understand for those of us who are not specialists in neurosurgery;

And children are not left out: children are not to be shaken. Neither emotionally nor physically. Children are less able to defend themselves; Damage can be severe and may not show until it is too late;

Prolonged exposure to negative news can contribute to the development of conditions such as anxiety and depression. The feeling of powerlessness in the face of the apparent lack of solutions to global problems can generate a sense of hopelessness, affecting our perception of the world and our place in it;

Balancing information intake

In this context, it is essential to consider the quality and quantity of our information intake. Overexposure to negative news can lead to a distorted view of reality, focusing only on the darker aspects of society; Setting healthy boundaries and selecting balanced news sources can help us maintain a more realistic and positive outlook;

The importance of diversificating our news sources cannot be underestimated. Consuming information from a variety of sources, both nationally and internationally, allows us to obtain a more complete and contextualised view of events; This variety can help counteract the sense of fatalism that often accompanies war coverage;

In addition to regulating our information diet, it is crucial to find ways to channel our emotions and contribute positively in the midst of adversity. Participation in charities, demonstrations, raising awareness and supporting peace initiatives are concrete steps that can make a difference;

Contributing to charitable causes not only provides direct aid to those affected by war, but can also offer a sense of purpose and meaning; Spreading awareness through social platforms and conversations in everyday life can amplify attention to important issues, generating long-term impact;

Human resilience in the midst of adversity

Despite the emotional burden of covering war, it is essential to remember the inherent resilience of humanity. Throughout history, we have overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges, demonstrating time and again our capacity for compassion and collaboration;

Celebrating stories of hope and solidarity can counter the dominant narrative of hopelessness; Let us not forget that those who want to spread negative feelings try to sell us the remedy: if they sow insecurity, they will sell us security measures; This is how the market works, and it is our duty to be wary of those who make money out of our discomfort; Highlighting the efforts of who work tirelessly to bring aid and build peace can inspire us and remind us that, even in dark times, there is light. There is light beyond our mobile screens;

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