When the sound of my crying wakes my husband Lex in the middle of the night, it’s usually because I’ve read something incredibly sad on the internet. Abused animals, hungry children, acts of unimaginable violence — somehow, the most depressing news of the day always finds me.
“Where do you get these stories?” he asks. “Are you on the Sad Internet again?”
“It’s impossible to hide from them,” I say. “You see the same headlines, you just don’t click on them.”
He brings up a valid point. I’m acutely aware of the problems of the world, so why do I have to read yet another story highlighting human depravity?
Years ago, long before the internet and 24-hour cable news cycle, my mom told me that the human body was not designed to process the bad news of everyone in the entire world. And she’s right.
Research shows that consuming negative news not only increases anxiety and sadness about the world, it also exacerbates personal worries that are not even related to the content of the news. So an upsetting story about a murder can get us churning about how we’re going to pay off our credit card.
And it’s worse for women. A new study shows that women are not only more distressed by sad news stories, they retain the details in their memories for much longer than men.
So what’s an internet-lovin’ lady to do?
For me, it helps to pause before I click. It started as a joke — I would read a headline to Lex and he’d tell me if I was “allowed” to click on it. But after saying a few of these ridiculous headlines out loud, I realized I was onto something.
Man Stabs Grandmother 111 Times and Dismembers Body? That’s gonna be a pass.
Police Shoot Unarmed Schizophrenic Paraplegic? No freakin’ way.
Heroic Golden Retriever Rescues Brother? Absolutely!
Psychology Today offers these tips to avoid being overwhelmed by sad and stressful news:
Embrace the full spectrum on the human experience, acknowledging the bad with the good. As Jon Kabat-Zinn explains in “Full Catastrophe Living” (a must-read for anyone seeking a more mindful, peaceful life), we should strive to appreciate “the richness of life and the inevitability of all its dilemmas, sorrows, tragedies, and ironies.” By doing so, we will never be weighed down for too long.
Ground yourself in spirituality or religion. Scientific research connects belief in a benevolent higher power with decreased anxiety.
Do something. People who take any positive action — no matter how small — report having less stress and anxiety about the fate of the world.
So tonight, after I unwind with my favorite benign TV shows, like “Remington Steele” and “Frasier,” I’ll resist the urge to hop on the Sad Internet. And if I simply must go online, I’ll stick to the adorable Animals catergory on Pinterest.