A study series led by Dutch researchers have found that avoiding the news during the pandemic was correlated with better mental well-being among participants in the Netherlands, CTV News reports.
In the study, researchers conducted online panel surveys in the Netherlands asking participants if they felt news about COVID-19 made them feel powerless, emotionally charged, overloaded with information, and negatively affected their mental well-being.
The participants were asked the same questions at three different intervals during the first four months of the pandemic. At the same time, researchers conducted a separate survey asking participants if they avoided the news more or consumed more news since the start of the pandemic.
Researchers asked the participants how often they felt nervous, calm, gloomy and happy over the previous four weeks, again at three different time periods.
The researchers found that there was a positive correlation with COVID-19 news avoidance and mental well-being. People who avoided pandemic news more were more likely to see their general well-being improve.
“This finding shows that those who opt for news avoidance to protect their mental well-being might make the right choice,” the authors wrote.
The study's abstract reads:
This study investigates the degree of news avoidance during the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic in the Netherlands. Based on two panel surveys conducted in the period April–June 2020, this study shows that the increased presence of this behavior, can be explained by negative emotions and feelings the news causes by citizens. Moreover, news avoidance indeed has a positive effect on perceived well-being. These findings point to an acting balance for individual news consumers. In a pandemic such as Covid-19 news consumers need to be informed, but avoiding news is sometimes necessary to stay mentally healthy.
At the beginning of the pandemic, participants said that they increased their news consumption and also turned to a greater variety of news sources. However, as the pandemic continued, news avoidance began to increase.
Feelings of powerlessness as well as information overload were cited as the most common reasons for news avoidance. In addition, younger adults were more likely to avoid the news, the researchers found.
“When people feel emotionally charged, have lost trust in news media, feel the need to ignore news and feel overloaded, they are avoiding the news more in the subsequent period,” the study's authors suggested.
This said, the data only covered the first four months of the pandemic, and can't speak to how news avoidance and mental health has since evolved. In addition, the study focused only on one country, the Netherlands, which had far fewer COVID-19 lockdown restrictions compared to many of its European neighbours and other countries around the world.
Nonetheless, the researchers say the findings could offer insight into how an onslaught of pandemic-related news affects mental health and why people might choose to avoid consuming more pandemic news.
“These findings point to an acting balance for individual news consumers. In a pandemic such as COVID-19 news consumers need to be informed, but avoiding news is sometimes necessary to stay mentally healthy,” the authors wrote.
It may seem that worrying less about COVID-19, and living life regardless of the oft overblown and fear-filled messages perpetuated by media, would lead to increased happiness and a better overall quality of life.
A similar study published recently also found that “doom-scrolling” COVID-19 news on social media had significant negative emotional consequences. Additionally, more Canadians are reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression amid harsh pandemic restrictions than ever before.