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Taking a break from the news can improve mental health, study finds

You're reading this, sure. But is it best for your psyche? Maybe not.
Switching away from a 24/7 cycle of news — along with a healthy diet — is beneficial to mental health, a new study finds.
Switching away from a 24/7 cycle of news — along with a healthy diet — is beneficial to mental health, a new study finds.Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images

A constant influx of bad news — pandemic, shootings, inflation, natural disasters, political turmoil — can feel, at best, soul-crushing. Now, a new study from Spain confirms the negative toll constantly being plugged into the news cycle can take.

The researchers looked at how people were best able to manage feelings of anxiety and depression at the height of the pandemic, finding that one of the most effective methods was to take breaks from the barrage of bad news.

Full coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic

"The best predictor for having lower anxiety and depressive symptoms," said lead study author Dr. Joaquim Radua, a psychiatrist in Barcelona, was to "avoid watching too much news." Radua is also affiliated with King's College London and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

The research will be presented this weekend at a meeting of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology in Vienna. It has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Radua cautioned that because the research was conducted in 2020 and 2021, it was unclear how the results would apply as coronavirus cases continue to decline.

Others note that there's only so much negative news coverage a person can take before it affects their mental health.

"There's an endless availability of information," said Lindsey McKernan, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville who was not involved with the new study. "Without putting the brakes on it yourself, you can just keep going and keep reading and become more stressed."

Radua's research looked at 942 adults in Spain who filled out an online questionnaire every two weeks for a year during the pandemic. The participants reported whether they were feeling despondent, and if so, how they were coping with such feelings. The analysis factored in whether participants had been previously diagnosed with anxiety or depression.

The study found that those who avoided "too much stressful news" had fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Also key to feeling better? Maintaining a healthy diet.

"Taking care of our body is something we can control," McKernan said. "That develops a sense of what's predictable and can help with stress."

Time outdoors, getting exercise and drinking enough water were also found to be linked with lower levels of stress, anxiety and feelings of depression.

The research also tracked whether the participants got Covid during the study period. Nearly all did, Radua said.

But unlike watching too much news, he said, getting Covid didn't affect the results.

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