Pessimism about Reality Can Impact Mental Health in a Serious Way
The 77th annual Golden Globes were just a couple days ago, but Ricky Gervais’ opening monologue is still echoing from coast to coast. And why not? In 8 minutes of dark humor, the comedian managed to gut Hollywood and we all laughed as its hypocrisy came spilling out. But if it was all about Hollywood, why are we still reeling from it?
Because it was also about us.
Note: **Viewer Discretion is advised**
Hollywood is a fantastical version of our humanity. It bedazzles our best and our worst. And like the actors and film society members at the Golden Globes, we are also racist, “woke” hypocrites who empower pedophiles, send money to Chinese sweatshops, and pull out a camera when we see someone else’s trauma.
First, the 24-hour news cycle brings us unrelenting coverage of the devastating fires in Australia, complete with the most pitiful koalas we’ve ever seen, followed by the horror of Hong Kong protestors being gassed and beaten by law enforcement. Then, when we turn on Netflix to relax, there’s the unreal-but-all-too-real tragedy of Don’t F*ck with Cats. How exactly are we supposed to escape this awful reality?
Time Magazine honors Greta Thurnberg as Person of the Year for her efforts in raising awareness about climate change, and we try to buy compostable garbage bags or commit to carrying our water in a Hydroflask instead of buying single use bottles. Then we see that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is now so big it makes Texas look small. What exactly can we do to make a positive change?
The more we learn about the world, the worse we realize we are. The more we discover no matter what we do, we fail. The more we realize that we don’t matter, that there’s nothing we can do.
Headline Stress Disorder and Its Counter-Productive Impact on Peace of Mind
Being aware...can also leave us feeling totally out of control.
“Being aware not only can create chronic feelings of hopelessness and anxiety, it can also leave us feeling totally out of control,” said Joshua Flatow, a psychiatrist at Pacific Mind Health in Long Beach, California. “These negative feelings can affect our interpersonal relationships, our professional performance, our self esteem, our sleep patterns, and our overall health.”
In 2016, a study by the American Psychological Association discovered that 66% of Americans felt stress about the future and identified the non-stop news cycle as a significant contributor to this feeling. In fact, this prompted therapist Steven Stosny to coin the term “headline stress disorder.” Increased stress can also prompt the release of hormones that cause inflammation found to be associated with heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and other health problems. It can also cause heightened anxiety even in people without anxiety disorders.
When you reach into your pocket and ask your phone to google “what’s in chicken nuggets?” you’ll definitely gain knowledge, but what does that knowledge get you? Are you now conscience-bound to boycott McDonald’s even though that’s the only thing your toddler eats without a fit? Is it going to send you down a rabbit hole of chicken farming injustices that compels you to source locally raised cage-free animals that cost twice what you normally pay? When your picky eater refuses to eat the homemade chicken nuggets and you are forced with dumping them in the trash, are you going to get visions of starving children in Yemen? Are you ultimately going to discover that the very phone you used to learn about chicken nuggets was put together by someone being paid $1.78 an hour and now you can’t even ask it questions without guilt washing over you?
Setting Boundaries for Your Consumption of Media is Good for Your Mental Health
“While it is important to stay informed, it’s also important to stay healthy.
“Knowledge is power, and it has the power to do good or do bad, depending on the individual,” said Joshua Flatow, a psychiatrist at Pacific Mind Health in Long Beach, California. “While it is important to stay informed, it’s also important to stay healthy. Setting time limits for taking in news, balancing bad news with good news, taking social media breaks, being selective with news sources, and directing helping impulses locally instead of globally can help give the power of knowledge back to people instead of having a reducing effect on their sense of individual value.”
If You’re Experiencing Heightened Anxiety for Any Reason There is Hope at Pacific Mind Health
Pacific Mind Health offers help to patients with news-induced anxiety through cognitive behavioral therapy. Medication may be indicated depending on the presentation and precursor, but learning coping techniques is a central part of Pacific Mind Health’s comprehensive approach to managing anxiety in our modern society. Anxiety is certainly a part of life, but it does not have to be the center of it.
Pacific Mind Health offers comprehensive mental health care for a range of psychiatric conditions. If you are looking for a psychiatrist in Los Angeles or Long Beach, California, or telepsychiatry in California, please contact us to schedule an appointment.