Coronavirus has swept across the globe, taking with it our ability to participate in the global economy or interact with each other outside of Zoom meetings and virtual social gatherings. Doctors have found that “coronavirus grief” — the feelings of isolation, helplessness and overwhelming despair procured from weeks of prolonged isolation — is a very real thing. One solution to battling this situation: Finding good news and embracing it.
Negative Impact of Negative News
One of the major contributors to this newfound grief is the reliance upon news media for information and the influx of doom and gloom stories that go along with it. Intellectually, we all understand that the news affects our perception of the world. Psychologically, the impact on our mental health can be more nuanced.
In an attempt to stay informed, we’re actually making ourselves sadder.
“People are experiencing stress from the news they consume and we’re not stemming the consumption,” says Liesl Ulrich-Verderber, COO of Ever Widening Circles (EWC), a website that’s “on a mission to change the dialogue about the state of our world by bringing the best of the world to one place.” Her mother, Dr. Lynda Ulrich, is the founder and CEO of EWC. Together, the pair aims to celebrate inspirational stories, innovations, and good news on their site while excluding politics and ads.
“Of late, some people have taken the all-or-nothing approach to media consumption,” says Ulrich-Verderber. “Most people say ‘Oh, I’ve turned off the news entirely’. But a news ‘fast’ is going to leave you missing out on a whole lot, and you won’t be able to navigate the landscape we’re living in.”
“By definition, the news is composed of the things that don’t happen very often. It’s not newsworthy if it occurs every day,” says Dr. Ulrich. “We rely on the news, but we’re only seeing a slice of that reality.”
This can compound and impact our psyche, and Ulrich-Verderber calls this the “availability heuristic.”
“Whatever we see a lot of, our brain thinks that’s what reality is. It’s what comes to mind first because it’s top of mind,” she says. The website Behavioral Economics says this occurs when “people make judgments about the likelihood of an event based on how easily an example, instance, or case comes to mind.”
So, Ulrich-Verderber notes that, “A news-heavy diet alters the way people interact with their world, and it impacts all aspects of their life: from saving money or making donations, to interacting with their children.”
Shifting the Focus
We can’t turn off the news altogether. Ignorance is not smart at any time, much less during a pandemic. But both mother and daughter suggest shifting the focus and taking in what is going right in the world to balance out our heavy news “diet.”
Rather than constantly consuming a “heavy steak dinner” of news, the duo suggests consuming the occasional “salad” — stories about progress, good news, or problem-solving. For example, when Dr. Ulrich’s team wrote about the rainforests burning in Brazil in 2019, they focused on Topher White, the innovator and developer of the Rainforest Connection. Their story covered the irrefutable devastation happening in Brazil, but tempered that with how White was saving the rainforest using old cell phones — research that was in virtual obscurity up to that point because the internet only displayed the bad news.
“I can hold hope in one hand and reality in the other and I can choose to support the person who I know is taking care of it. I can choose to change my perception.” she says.
Changing your mindset to focus on good things can impact both personal relationships and the family dynamic, particularly if your children are stressed or anxious about coronavirus or any heavy news happening in the world. Dr. Ulrich says she’s already seen people are beginning to rethink what content is considered helpful and thoughtful.
“I think now we’re looking at the people building the chaos, and we don’t want any part of it,” she says. “We’re looking for the helpers and I think we’re going to start rewarding them with our attention. That’s the key — identifying what we will pay attention to.”
Ulrich-Verderber agrees, adding, “People are going to change the way they consume media, which will in turn change the way media shapes its content. I think this is going to be a lasting habit.”