A man looks intently at his smartphone.

Overcome Information Overload

You’ve fallen into a disastrous and mind-numbing habit. The moment you wake up, you roll over and “just check in” with the day’s news. Perhaps you are just consulting Twitter, or you’ve got your device’s news service feeding you headlines from the 7 or 8 hours you were asleep.

Throughout the day you touch base with the latest happenings, sometimes reading whole articles and sometimes just sharing a significant headline on your social media. Then maybe a few comments to friends and family about the latest news.

At night, just before you turn off the light, one more check in.

The whole time you have been anxious, upset, and unproductive. And you know it is your own fault.

 

News addiction is widespread

You’re not alone if this is you. Reports show that people are increasingly drawn to the news as it signals on our phone, calls from the scrolling crawl at the bottom of the TV screen. And it is creating anxiety outbreaks.

It is not just a United States phenomenon. Writer Rolf Dobellie talks about this anxiety and his own history in Switzerland, cramming all the news he could carry into his briefcase, and then later checking it constantly on TV and his phone. Sure he needed to know some of this information for his work, but it was really far too much.

A pile of newspapers sit next to a morning tea cup.

I can just get through these over tea … Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

 

Dobellie describes his experience like many others do. First he felt he was keeping up with it. Then he realized he was unable to keep up with any of it. He lost the ability to concentrate, and he was not absorbing or remembering any of the content, even minutes after reading an article.

This was information overload, and he describes his experience with it in his book Stop Reading the News. 

 

Stop reading the news

Dobellie’s book title, Stop Reading the News is not just evocative. It is, in fact, his proposed solution. 

In order to begin to grasp the importance of this idea, you need to re-examine the word “news.” 

While it has come to carry the connotation that it is important information, it isn’t. The name reveals that it is simply novel information. It is “new.” 

A man looks intently at his smartphone.

You can’t keep up with it all. Image by My Nguyễn from Pixabay 

But this is a big and busy world. If you try to keep up with all that is new in it, you will fail. And along the way you will feel overwhelmed, underinformed, and constantly behind.

Because you have set out to achieve an impossible task. You can’t keep up with everything.

Instead, you should strive to do the opposite.

You should stop reading the news.

 

Tune in to the right things

It seems challenging to simply quit cold turkey, but it is not impossible. In fact, a few small self-disciplines can help you achieve this pretty quickly. 

One recent client was working on concentrating on what was important to him, and we worked out these steps. 

  1. Keep the phone away from the bed 
  2. Turn off notifications for news apps
  3. Unsubscribe from at least one email subscription every day
  4. Set a time to be on Twitter or FaceBook each day
  5. Pick three topics he would follow in the news

The first step was easy for him, because he still had and used a traditional alarm clock. Keeping the phone across the room, charging on the dresser, made it harder for him to check in as he fell asleep or after he first got out of bed. This ended “doomscrolling” that could go for an hour and ruin a full day.

The second step took a couple of minutes, and we did it in the office. This was the one he later reported back made the most immediate improvement in his day.

It took a while, but he reported after two weeks that he had reduced his incoming email noticeably. He no longer had anxiety about checking his mail because now much of it was from people he knew, or it was directly about his work. The huge amounts of spam mail didn’t make the list look too large to manage.

This client vowed to get on Facebook only during meals where he was eating alone – typically breakfast and lunch on work days. As for Twitter, well, he failed to limit his time. This shows the importance of coming up with a plan that works for you!

Finally, he decided he would follow news related to education (his field), housing (an area he was interested in), and music production (his hobby). Later he found he couldn’t stop checking in on politics, but we added some restrictions there, like not following politicians who did not directly represent him.

 

You can get help

Sakina Issa. Photo provided.

Do you have a challenging habit that is costing you sleep, or robbing you of your sense of command? You likely will benefit from talking to a licensed therapist like Sakina Issa.

Luckily, these conversations can happen discreetly and by appointment using the same tools you have grown comfortable using at work, like Zoom or GoToMeeting. Just click the button in the upper right hand corner.

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