3 questions about impact of media on mental health
Does your OCD think the world is a bad, dangerous place, where everything is out to get you?
Mine does. Or at least it did, until I did a bunch of ERP several years ago where I acted as though I didn’t have a target on my back. Those exercises helped me over time to change my beliefs about the world so that I could drop the hypervigilance and foster a new recovery-strengthening worldview of Earth as a mostly friendly, supportive place.
The pandemic has reinforced my OCD’s twisted, negative view of the world. As I’ve been working to identify what could help me strengthen the healthier worldview I gained through ERP, one activity has risen to the top: changing my intake of news and social media.
Now I’m not saying that any intake of news or social media is bad, but for me as a person in recovery from OCD, if I choose to fill my mind with content that reinforces my OCD’s belief that we’re just days away from Armageddon, then sooner or later I’ll start feeling as if that’s the truth. To be more specific, when I’ve indulged in frequent news or social media checking, I find that I can answer “yes” to all the following questions:
Do you feel anxious, depressed, and/or more focused on the negative after reading/watching/hearing the news or social media?
Do you spend time ruminating about what you learned, trying to “figure out” how things will turn out and/or wondering how the current or future situation might affect you and your family?
Do you feel a “need to know,” causing you to click on more links and/or check more frequently to get more updates (that only fuel more of a need to know)?
If you, too, could answer “yes” to one or more of these questions, it might be worth considering how your intake of media is making you feel. If you think it’s affecting you negatively, you could do an experiment of reducing or even eliminating your media intake for a period of time, and then see if you feel better, worse, or the same.
When I’ve gone a week or more without taking in any news, I notice that my mind lets go of things I cannot control, such as the pandemic, the economy, the state of the world, etc. As a result, I feel less anxious, hypervigilant, and worried because I’m not reinforcing OCD’s belief that I have a target on my back. I can then put my Shoulders Back and have the headspace and peace of mind to focus on what really matters in my life.
I’m guessing this blog might create a number of questions, so I’ve proactively answered them below. If you have others, please feel free to send them to me on the Contact Shala form.
Q: What do you mean you think the world is friendly? It certainly doesn’t seem very friendly to me lately!
A: I completely understand! So I don’t recreate the wheel in this post, I’ll refer you to chapter 15 (it’s short, I promise!) in Is Fred in the Refrigerator? Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life, where I describe where I learned about that concept, what it means, and how I applied it using ERP to my OCD recovery.
Q: Aren’t you suggesting that we avoid the news since it’s triggering? Isn’t this counter to ERP, because aren’t we supposed to face our fears?
A: I’m not suggesting that you avoid the news so that OCD isn’t triggered. I’m suggesting that if news or social media intake is affecting your mood and/or your outlook on life, which is then impacting your OCD recovery, then you might experiment with decreased intake to see if that affects how you feel.
If you need to watch the news to do ERP, great, then watch away! But do adequate response prevention (the RP part of ERP) during and after, which means acting as though what OCD says is irrelevant. This includes not ruminating about it, and you can read my blog on the “may or may not” technique to learn more about how to interrupt rumination.
Q: But don’t I need to know what’s going on to be an informed citizen?
A: My answer is both yes and no. Yes, it’s helpful to be informed so you can make decisions, but how often are decision-impacting events, such as a new COVID treatment or a vaccine or a government program to help those economically impacted, actually happening? Not all that often.
When I decide to not check the news frequently or at all, I ask family members to let me know if any real news events occur. It’s interesting that not once over the past several months as I’ve been experimenting with this has anyone called me to say, “Oh my gosh, Shala, there’s breaking news you just have to know!”
Q: Watching or reading the news or social media makes me feel connected in this time when we’re so isolated, and I don’t want to give that up. Do I have to?
No! I only offer this as an experiment. If you think it might help you, please feel free to try it. And if not, that’s ok, too. There are very few “have to’s” in this world (although OCD might tell you there are a LOT of them, but it’s lying), and this isn’t one of them.
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FredTalks are not a replacement for therapy, and I encourage all readers who have obsessive compulsive disorder to find a competent ERP therapist. See the IOCDF treatment provider database for a provider near you. And never give up hope, because you can tame OCD and reclaim your life!