Need a News Fast?

You often recommend a news fast. I’m not sure exactly what you mean. Can you explain what it is, and why you think it is important?

– November 7, 2011

A news fast simply means opting out of watching the news on television, listening to it on the radio, reading newspapers, or following the news on the Internet for a few days or even a week at a time. I believe that taking periodic breaks from the news can promote mental calm and help renew your spirits. In this way, the anxiety and overstimulation catalyzed by the media may be minimized, and your body will function better.

A number of studies have shown that images and reports of violence, death and disaster can promote undesirable changes in mood and aggravate anxiety, sadness and depression, which in turn can have deleterious effects on physical health. Even frequent worrying can reduce immunity, making you more vulnerable to infection.

In suggesting periodic news fasts, I’m not advocating that you become uninformed about the state of the world. But in addition to the recommendations I make about how to nourish your body, I think it is important to become aware of what we put into our consciousness as well. Many people do not exercise much control over that and as a result take in a lot of “mental junk food.” My goal in asking you to practice news fasting now and then is for you to discover that you have the power to decide how much of this material you want to let in.

I have no objection to your turning on the news for information you really need, but I worry about people who turn it on compulsively or unconsciously, and who are addicted to the news and to the stimulation of the emotional ups and downs it intentionally elicits. When you’re on a news fast, you should observe a difference in your state of mind and body. You are likely to be less anxious, less stressed, less angry, and less fearful.

I find that televised news is the worst offender when it comes to provoking anxiety. Psychologist Dan Shapiro, Ph.D., chair of the humanities department at Penn State University College of Medicine, suggests looking elsewhere for your information if televised images upset you and seeking deeper, more thoughtful analysis of the news in other, less sensationalist media outlets.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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