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‘Disaster Fatigue’ Is What Happens When Our Minds Are Bombarded With Bad News

This isn't good.

10/16/2017 11:10 EDT | Updated 10/16/2017 11:10 EDT

If you've ever looked at your social media feed and found yourself overwhelmed by the onslaught of negativity in the news today, you're not alone. According to Dr. Mary McNaughton-Cassill, a University of Texas psychology professor, bad news is seriously taking a toll on our minds.

"We're seeing more 'disaster fatigue,'" she told The New York Times. "In the digital age where studies show some three out of four people check their smartphone before going to bed and shortly after waking up in the morning it's getting harder not to feel overwhelmed."

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Looking at the news today — from the hurricane devastation to the Las Vegas shooting to Harvey Weinstein's sexual assault scandal — it's not hard to see how all the negative news can be overbearing. Specifically, the excessive coverage of these events can make us feel bombarded with negativity, thus affecting our mental health by triggering feelings of depression, anxiety and anger.

People have never before in the history of the world lived where they were surrounded with so much media and information.

In a 2014 interview with HuffPost Live, Dr. McNaughton-Cassill explained this phenomenon. "People have never before in the history of the world lived where they were surrounded with so much media and information," she said. "So 100 years ago, if there was a disaster and you were in it, you actually had some direct things you needed to do to cope. But you weren't aware of everything going on around you, therefore weren't as overwhelmed."

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So what can people do to combat disaster fatigue? The answer is simple: turn off your phone.

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done considering a 2015 study found that smartphone use has become a "habitual, automatic behaviour," with many people not realizing just how much they use their devices.

Smartphone use has become a 'habitual, automatic behaviour.'

Additionally, British psychologist Dr. Richard House previously told HuffPost that "on average, approaching one third of people's waking hours are spent using them, with phones being used on average five times an hour, every waking hour."

This "repeated exposure" to bad news is what's causing so many people to experience disaster fatigue. However, Dr. Christina Mangurian, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, told The New York Times that one way to consciously combat this is to limit phone alerts and turn off devices a few hours before bed.

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Additionally, people should practice positive thinking. "It's basically cognitive behavioural therapy, the idea that people can think differently about the same event," Dr. McNaughton-Cassill explained. "So, if you only focus on the negative, you're going to feel bad."

"Look for a silver lining, and try to find something positive to focus on," she suggested, "such as all the people who have helped others during crisis events."

Positive thinking is certainly a powerful thing, as it can not only help you cope better with stress, but can also lower rates of depression and, believe it or not, improve your immune system.

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