Recovering from “NEWS” Syndrome

| April 23, 2020

Be prepared for a shock. We may be coming down with another ‘strain’ of COVID- 19 – overstraining our consumption of news about the coronavirus.

There’s a chance you are addicted too – but while it takes persistence, self diagnosis can lead to a cure.

My acronym for NEWS is the Neurotic Endemic Worry Syndrome.

I revealed it to the host of ABC weekend radio host Libbi Gorr, when she interviewed me on her weekend show in Melbourne Vic.

It’s where my New Year holiday to see family here was truncated by the global pandemic, leaving me unable to return.

For the past 17 years, I have been based in Beijing, working in English language media as a TV news anchor and voice coach.

Ms Gorr asked me how I felt the coverage of news had changed since I left the ABC to go to China in 2003.

I mentioned our growing appetite for consuming negative stories and have no doubt it has become a by-product of the current public health crisis and obsession with hearing about the COVID- 19 pandemic 24 hours a day.

As a journalist and consumer of news, I trust and rely on reputable sources of information. They deserve highest praise for their frontline dedication in this crucial 24 hour cycle of keeping us informed.

But like visitors who don’t want to overstay their welcome, we have the right to politely step back and thank our hosts, promising to visit after a short(ish) interval.

Rather than leading a movement to replicate Ostriches hiding their heads in the sand, I’m just advocating appropriate periods of ‘time out’ from the NEWS.

I am not alone in promoting the idea of managing our access to maintain perspective and not let this obsession overwhelm.

Dr. David H Rosmarin, founder and director of the Center for Anxiety in New York, declared: ‘Don’t let the news cycle dictate your emotions.

In an interview published on the Mental Floss website, he says ‘the coronavirus situation is dynamic and seems to change by the hour, resulting in people feeling compelled to stay on top of updates by constantly checking for new information.

‘While that can be stressful at any time, it can affect your ability to relax if you surf news outlets just before going to sleep. People need to be shutting off information an hour before they go to bed.

‘It’s very unlikely an update will be so urgent or pressing it would lose relevance by morning. Sleep is critical to a healthy immune system, and giving yourself an opportunity to unwind is important’.

Before admitting my own capture to this self declared syndrome, I have tried weaning myself off the Covid cacophony several times.

But more than once I rejoined my fellow human ‘hamsters’ on the wheel of anxiety, our precious hours ticking as we keep clicking,

My own day started by checking the South China Morning Post, then rushing onto the BBC News App and ABC (Australia) website. Next, a look at The Age/Sydney Morning Herald, the New York Times, and others – newspapers with breakfast, ears at the radio, and eyes on the TV.

My addiction to this cacophony was proof I had become a victim of my self-declared Neurotic Endemic Worry Syndrome. But I have decided enough is enough, even if it has taken me until now to call a halt.

This morning I mounted the pushbike my grandchildren have loaned me, and headed for an hour’s exercise along the the Bayside cycleway to St. Kilda, breathing in the fresh salty air, all the time, trying to maintain the social distancing Australians have adopted in their bid to be considerate and safe – measures which are working to keep infection numbers low.

My news-less fix is working. I slept soundly last night and felt a huge sense of relief, while making sure I follow the sensible advice for maintaining the best possible health.

I know I will gradually start randomly checking for updates again, but my advice is to choose a reliable source for your main consumption. Avoid flicking endlessly here, there and everywhere in constant search for the worst, especially before bedtime.

Don’t get hooked on the NEWS, and if you are – turn on some soothing music and leave the phone in a place on its own. You never know – it might boost your immune system and give you the ammunition to avoid this ‘thing’ – mentally as well as physically.