Stop the spiral

How to keep up with coronavirus news without losing your mind

Avoid COVID-19 news overload with three expert-backed strategies.

An illustration of people walking around with face masks on and the COVID bacteria flashing out of t...

The number one news story in the world right now is the COVID-19 pandemic, and according to an announcement made by President Donald Trump on Monday, it's a story that's not going away any time soon. Trump told reporters that the emergency could last until July or August — which means a probable six more months of novel coronavirus news.

It will be important to stay informed at this time. Still, with around the clock new coverage and rampant misinformation, staying updated on coronavirus can seem like fighting an uphill battle. To make sense of the media, you can use three strategies to stay on top of the news — without losing your mind.

The key tips? Know when to log-off, rely on trusted, science-based sources, and take care of yourself.

As people face weeks stuck at home and more time behind screens, these tactics can limit coronavirus anxiety spirals, endless Twitter scrolls, and cable news overdoses.

Roxane Silver, a researcher at the University of California, Irvine, has spent decades studying collective traumas like mass violence, natural disasters, and disease outbreaks like coronavirus. She tells Inverse that the uncertainty and ambiguity of this pandemic can make the spread of coronavirus feel more stressful than some other disease outbreaks in recent history.

“We're right in the midst of the ‘tornado;’ an unfolding crisis,” Silver says, and acknowledges that we "don't know if it's going to get worse before it gets better."

In turn, there is value in taking a break from anxiety-producing content, Silver says. It's okay to press pause on the steady flow of news and check in on your health, all the while staying in the know.

Step away from the smartphone

Too much bad news can make you sick, mentally and physically, by exacerbating stress levels that can trickle down to physiological dysfunction.

It's also true that, with the constantly shifting landscape around coronavirus, the present level of news coverage is appropriate and warranted, Silver says. But with constant breaking news, it’s tough to know when to step away from the churn.

How to handle this barrage, Silver says, is "a personal decision." While she keeps news push notifications activated, some of her colleagues designate specific “check-in” times to read the latest news.

"I'm suggesting that people be thoughtful, careful, and proactive."

Reading the news can amplify anxiety, Silver explains. Anxiety also drives people to seek more information and read the news. It’s a cycle that’s difficult to break.

At least a few times a day, press pause on the constant influx, put your phone or computer down, and step back, Silver suggests.

This can help you break an anxious cycle: Go for a walk outside, cook a meal, or watch some television. Your emotions signal when it’s time to take that break — if you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, it likely means that it's time to step away from anxiety-producing content.

“I'm not at all endorsing denial or putting one's head in the sand,” Silver says. “I'm suggesting that people be thoughtful, careful and proactive in their seeking of new information.”

Read what you trust

One of the best ways to stay updated is to look to the experts: Follow the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization, and local public health agencies’ updates to understand the scale of coronavirus’ spread and the tactics necessary to fight it. Public health experts also provide informed insight on Twitter and Instagram.

Steer clear of your cousin’s bunk theories or the random person on Instagram hawking a false cure. Also, it’s wise to stay away from information circulating via text or Facebook, Silver cautions.

“What we do know about social media is that, unlike traditional media, there isn't an editor who is monitoring and vetting the veracity of what is being distributed,” Silver explains.

The lack of fact-checking means information — and misinformation — spreads faster on social media than traditional media.

Silver encourages following trusted, authoritative, science-backed news sources for reliable coverage — like The Atlantic, The New York Times, or here at Inverse. Coverage is ongoing, and these trusted sources can provide tangible, fact-based insights that cut through the confusion.

Treat yourself

At this stage, it’s hard to predict what the future holds when it comes to COVID-19, but it’s likely weeks and possibly months before things go back to “normal.” The best way to keep your chin up over the long haul is to be kind to yourself. Take the extra time to stay active, get adequate sleep, eat food that nourishes your body, and do things that make you smile.

“There is time for people to put away their phone, to turn off all media, and to disengage at times,” Silver says.

And remember, there’s a lot of good news out there too, whether it’s Italians singing on balconies or proof that lifelong love exists.

“Anxiety is contagious but compassion is contagious as well,” Silver says.

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